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red moon betterI can’t think of another book that is more timely and relevant to the world we live in at this precise moment—the post-September 11th, post-Boston Marathon bombing landscape of heightened xenophobia and security—than Red Moon. Like Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, Red Moon speaks to us right out of the headlines, the perpetual CNN and Fox News scroll that is the absurdly real backdrop of our lives.

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Within thirty-six hours of the release of the long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development, reviews—not just of the first episode, but of the entire season—started appearing online. Reviewers watched the full eight-hour season in one or two sleep-deprived binges, then spent the remaining twenty-eight hours spewing out essay-like things, some in excess of 3,000 words, purporting to offer an authoritative viewpoint on the show. One gets the sense that many of these writers would proudly refer to their essay-like things as thinkpieces, which is internet shorthand for unfocused, poorly edited conglomerations of words designed to project the appearance of depth without actually providing any.

6a00d83451ce9f69e2017d42a16e57970c-250wiIs it self-indulgent to quote myself? Probably. But do I get credit for being self-aware enough to acknowledge that I recognize this? I pose these questions because my job today is to riff in a most biased fashion on Wheatyard, the debut novel by good friend Pete Anderson.

Which I will do now. Promise.

Debut novels are, by their nature, both self-indulgent and self-aware. Self-indulgent because who said that anyone has any right to assume anyone cares about anything writers have to say? And yet self-aware because without at least some level of self-awareness, all debut novels would tell the same story again and again–someone meets someone, someone leaves someone, someone’s family is fucked-up, someone finds redemption–but bring nothing new to the table. Or the Kindle if that’s your thing.

James-Salter-All-That-Is-200x300Whether naturally born or G-force bred, fighter pilots embody a unique strain: their hell-bent defiance of physical laws kept in check by a meticulous respect for man-made machinery. After serving a dozen years in the Air Force – flying combat missions in the Korean War – James Salter applied that elevated mix of risk and control to definitive novels of erotic discovery and marital malaise. As the author now approaches ninety, his latest novel, All That Is, finds the former officer devoted to a trio of tasks: setting his affairs in order, offering loving remembrance, and demonstrating his intent to stand firm to the end.

This is the second installation in a series of “reverse interviews,” wherein the author asks the questions about his own book, and one reader answers.

JENSEN BEACH: The other night my wife and I were reading before bed and she turned to me before she shut out her light and said it had been weird to read my book because she’d lived with the stories in it for so long and it felt strange to see them all mixed up like they were. At first I didn’t really understand what she meant. She told me there little bits in many of the stories that she recognized—things we’d experienced together, stories we’d been told by other people, things I’d said to our kids or to her—and that it had been interesting to see the ways I’d gone about taking that all apart and putting it back together again to fit the fictions in the book.

 

San Diego City Beat has reviewed the Other People with Brad Listi podcast:

What matters to Listi is insight and inspiration. He wants to know how they got their start as writers, what they were like in college, what obstacles they overcame. Listi doesn’t dance around his subjects. Were you a fuck-up? A prodigy? A jerk? Eventually, even the most reticent writer opens up. The result is something that book culture usually is not—lively, timely and incredibly entertaining.

Michael-David is an actor on the verge of an identity crisis. Too old for cool, not old enough for eminence. A Look Who’s Talking-era Travolta, staring down lean years clawing for scraps. Teetering on the B-List, Michael-David lucks into his own Pulp redemption: a starring role in the latest guerilla flick by unhinged auteur Chris Culpepper.

Something, however, is very wrong with this picture.

The Rules of Inheritance begins with a mother dying. It is 1996 and Claire Bidwell Smith is eighteen years old. By this time, both of her parents have been diagnosed with cancer, and though her father’s was discovered first, her mother’s was farther along once finally found, too late, for some terrible reason, for many terrible reasons, none of which Claire will know for years, and some never. She receives the call in an unfamiliar bed under the same roof as a boy with whom she yearns to be familiar, but will never be, and not for lack of trying. This moment, many before it, and even many after it, solidify the circumstances that control Claire’s life for years. She is young and wild, uninhibited, restricted, hurt, abandoned. Death, the inevitable loss and end (or physical end) of all things, fills every crack in Claire’s being, the cracks that form following the deaths of both of her parents before she is old enough to fully realize the severity of these events and the consequences that will follow, many of which are self-inflicted.

It has been two years since Hope—Jack and Jenna Tanner’s bright and beautiful only child—walked out of her apartment door at the University of Wisconsin and vanished into the night.

Since then, Jenna’s grief has led to madness. She is confined now in a psychiatric hospital. Jack has been unable to concentrate on business. He has lost his job as a tax attorney at the largest law firm in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, Slater Babcock, Hope’s college boyfriend and the only suspect in her disappearance, is enjoying the decadent life of a rich man’s spoiled son in sunny Key West.

I will admit, the title of Stacy Bierlein’s debut story collection made me somewhat uncomfortable and more than a little nervous. A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends has an ominous ring, summoning imaginary scenes of one’s own hypothetical island of ex-boyfriends. In my mind, there are few things more dangerous than a group of men one once bedded, all converging in the same, small space. I circled the book for a few days, uncertain of what angle to approach it.

The central characters in Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls go through their lives, like most of us, accompanied by an inner narrator.  The inner narrator for Schappell’s characters is more antagonist than friend: it’s the voice of fairy tales, of high school hallway gossip, of what their mother told them was permissible for girls (“Men and horses sweat, ladies perspire”). These women and girls know the roles available to them. They know the postures to adopt, the lines to speak; they know what’s expected of a Southern debutante, or a girl with a bad reputation, or a woman who’s just had a miscarriage.

Matty Byloos is an internationally recognized painter, the renowned publisher and editor of Smalldoggies Magazine and Press, and the author of Pushcart Prize nominee Don’t Smell the Floss: a unique and experimental collection of short stories written through a male stream of consciousness.

Explain your fascination with these long-dead 20th century icons.  Frankly, it’s a little weird.

It’s a good question. Which doesn’t mean I have a good answer, or even a mediocre one.  I don’t know. Writers tend not to know.  This is true for pretty much all artists, if they’re being honest.  We do our work  in order to find out what we think, what we feel.  Our work is a form of inquiry.  A book is not a remodel.  A painting is not a retirement plan.  A song is not an itinerary.

 

That’s deep, and evasive.

I do one thing, then the next thing.  I have no master plan.  In 2004 I wrote a memoir about taking care of my dad during the last year of his life.  You can imagine what a cheery undertaking that was.  The writing of some books kill you.  Writing that book was like a bad break-up. After writing it, I wanted to date around. I wanted a rebound book. So, How to Hepburn was born. Katharine Hepburn was my mother’s favorite actress. When I was growing up, people would stop her in the produce aisle and tell her she looked like Hepburn. Then I went to film school, and I fell in love with her all over again. To do a book about Hepburn would mean a year of reading wonderful biographies and watching wonderful old movies and immersing myself in a time when cinema was new. Plus, I knew I wouldn’t be writing a standard biography. I have neither the interest in writing a comprehensive biography, nor the scholarly chops, nor the necessary OCD component to my personality.  It would be a cross between How Proust Can Change Your Life (by Alain de Botton) and U and I (by Nicholson Baker).  It would be my own thing. Even though Hepburn probably would not have approved of the book, she would have approved of the spirit with which it was undertaken.

 

Whatever you did seems to have worked.  After Hepburn came Coco Chanel, and now Georgia O’Keeffe.  

I’m calling it my Kick Ass Women trilogy.

 

Is that you, or the publicity department talking?

They called it my iconic women series, which I thought lacked a little cha cha cha and ooh la la.

 

Define “kick ass,” please.

The thing I love about them all was their unerring belief in themselves, their opinions, their style and their creative vision.  Chanel and O’Keeffe were contemporaries, and Hepburn was twenty years younger. All of them were born before women had the vote, when the goal of most women was to marry whomever would have them, the richer the better. They were stubborn.  They were not very nice. I love that they were not nice. Most women I know, even in this day and age, worry they are not nice enough. My kick ass women couldn’t give a shit. Seriously.

 

With the greatest respect, who cares what you think? I mean, these women are world famous, and you’re just some fan girl.

Fan girl and proud of it. I’m no different than every other person out there who’s bewitched by these women and their astounding achievements. I even have a Georgia O’Keeffe kitchen calendar, that’s how middle-brow I am.  I’ve delved into these women’s lives to see what it is that continues to attract us to them, even though they’re long dead. I write these books not only to figure out how I should live, but also, I hope, so that some of their luster might rub off on me, and by extension, you.

 

None of these women are mothers.  Are you saying that at the end of the day you have to forego kids to have an interesting life? That’s pretty retro.

The current thinking flies in the face of what people thought only ten years ago, which is that kids take up a lot of space in your life. I have friends who are having three and four kids, and still think they can start a company while going to medical school. But this is neither here nor there. I don’t think Hepburn wanted children, but Chanel did and so did O’Keeffe. But it didn’t happen for them, and so they threw themselves into their work. This is an old cure-all, throwing oneself into one’s work.

 

Did you ever imagine you’d be the inventor of this weird mash-up genre, or is it the natural outcome of having written your way through everything else.  Short stories, novels, creative non-fiction, YA mysteries, screenplays, essays, articles and reviews.  Is there anything you haven’t written?

I’m something of a poetry moron, although I did win a prize for a poem in college, so who knows what’s ahead.

 

In case you’re feeling a little smug about all this work, may I remind you that a Writer Without a Platform is a Writer Without a Career.

Don’t I know it. I’ve flown under the radar for twenty years, in part because I can’t settle on a specific subject or genre.  To be known for writing only about birds, or marriage, or thermonuclear reactors would be the end of me. I’d get bored. Writing would feel like homework, or doing my taxes. I cannot move forward in a piece of writing without passion, curiosity, and a sense of venturing out into the unknown. And yet, I haven’t had to make good on my promise to become a dental hygienist if stuff doesn’t work out.

 

Tell me something about Georgia O’Keeffe I might not already know.

She had a fabulous sense of humor. Also, she sewed her own underwear.

 

What’s the best piece of wisdom you’ve found in examining O’Keeffe’s life?

O’Keeffe was not immune to what other people thought about her work, but she made a habit of ignoring what other people said. “Flattery and criticism go down the same drain, and I am quite free,” she once said.

 

Does this mean you don’t read reviews of your work?

I stay as far away from reviews as humanly possible.  But given that in these modern times we authors are expected to leverage the hell out of every review we’re lucky enough to garner—good, bad or ugly—ignoring one’s reviews is not as easy as it once was, but I’m fighting the good fight.

 

Is print dead?

It’s on life support, but until the day comes when we can upload books onto chips implanted in our heads, there will still be books. Recently I was on a long flight, and the woman next to me was fussing with her iPad. Some file or app wasn’t opening for her, then her battery died.  She was forced to read Sky Mall for the next four hours. I had a paperback stuffed in my purse.  Need I say more?

 

Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark KriegelHe was the sad-eyed wizard of the hardwood, wearing floppy socks and scraggly hair upon his head, the prodigy child of his father, Press Maravich. To a generation he was known as Pistol Pete, a soulful magician with a leathery, orange globe ricocheting from the tips of his fingers to the tips of his toes, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history—a legend.

For anyone waiting for the publishing industry to embrace the rock novel, 2011 has been a breakout year. First, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Then this past summer Ecco released Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, which was just named one of the New York Times‘ 10 Best Books of 2011. Scribner followed with Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, which has been reviewed well across the board, even by me, and it was also named a finalist for the 2011 Nobbies. Each of these novels takes seriously the idea that rock and lit can mix, and each succeeds in its way. Still, I couldn’t help but find something lacking in all of them. All three employ rock and roll as an effective prop or backdrop, but what about rock as the ultimate adolescent dream–the sex, the drugs, the backstage shenanigans–that motivated so many of my and other generations? Each these novels has elements of this, but none tackles it as head-on as Tyler McMahon’s debut How the Mistakes were Made.