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JC: Johnny needs no introduction around here. All About Lulu was one of the first novels 3G1B covered, and JE became one of the earliest friends of the blog, eventually becoming the fourth/third in our collaboration. If you haven’t yet coerced someone into giving you a galley of West of Here, get to work on it, or you could wait and buy one and put a few bucks in his pocket. He’s got rabbits to feed. Here’s his WWFIL.

When We Fell In Love – Jonathan Evison

My old man was sort of a deadbeat at times, but he was (and is) a brilliant guy. He’s currently living off the grid in the mountains of southern Oregon, where, among other things, he hauls his feces around in a wheelbarrow. All of this begs a little explanation, but that’s not the purpose of my post. So, if you’re interested in my old man (and you may be by the time you finish this post), here’s a little more about him.

The point is, while my dad wasn’t around all that much to “father” me after the age of 9, he single-handedly led me to my destiny as a writer. He introduced me to storytelling. In my infancy, it was the oral tradition. In the darkness of my room before bedtime, he spun whole worlds for me out of thin air. He was masterful. His characters won my sympathy right off the bat. He understood tension. Pacing. Climax. For the most part, these stories comprised an ongoing serial concerning three orphaned tiger cubs and their adventures in the jungle. I’m guessing my old man liked Kipling.

Before long, we began inventing these “tiger stories” together. And in these dark delicious minutes before sleep, my fate as a storyteller was won—a fate which was to include twenty years of abject failure and near-starvation for the noble cause of storytelling, not to mention enough form rejections to wallpaper the Tacoma Dome. And ultimately, a little taste of victory. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

By six, I was on a steady diet of Dickens. My dad read me CopperfieldGreat ExpectationsLittle Dorrit. It didn’t take me long to realize that my family (and extended family in every direction) was “Dickensian.” We were a fantastically idiosyncratic lot. A great, shaggy, circus of a family. Bodybuilders. Inventors. Pianists who only played Christmas carols. We took in homeless people, adopted exotic pets, rode mini-bikes. We were flawed, but lovable. Inept but sympathetic. And our lives were filled with all manner of drama—of love, and loss, and at least one rabid squirrel monkey (no joke—she bit a guy in a Red Lion parking lot outside of Portland, but again I digress). To this day, Dickens feels almost as much as a father to me as my dad does (and that’s no blow to my dad). There’s a reason that Dickens appeals to children. His heroes (even those who were not children) were little people trying to navigate a big world which always seemed to have other plans for them.

At eight years old, my old man gave me Kurt Vonnegut Jr.‘s Breakfast of Champions. Thus, while my playground contemporaries were reading The Great Brain and Nancy Drew, I was learning about wide-open beavers and puckered assholes. Whatever else may have been lost on me, I was beginning to recognize the most noble functions of humor—to laugh in the face of adversity, to laugh at injustice and heartache and the hopeless vagaries of the corporeal world. I was learning about absurdity. It didn’t take me long to recognize the Dickens DNA in Vonnegut. The sympathetic characters. The humor. The sadness trickling quietly beneath the laughter. Soon Vonnegut felt like an uncle—specifically, the uncle who shows you the world that nobody else thinks you’re quite ready to see.

When I was seventeen, I met my next literary idol in John Fante, who came to me by way of Saroyan and Bukowski. Ask the Dust virtually cemented my status as a hopelessly young alcoholic misfit, determined to starve himself in the name of literature. While Vonnegut’s protagonists were puppets, and Dickens’ were well drawn cartoons, Arturo Bandini was the most fully realized, unfettered, intensely human character to ever tear my heart out and kick it down the stairs. Bandini was fear and arrogance, outrage and tenderness, lust and greed and vulnerability. Bandini, too, was a little character—but the big world which was forever at work on him was that of his own yearnings and passions and desperate desire to be loved.

I’ve fallen in love a half-dozen times since then, and had at least a dozen sordid affairs, but these three writers seem to have cast the longest shadow on both my work and my life so far. And while I’ve grossly neglected all of them in the past ten or fifteen years, not a solitary day has gone by that these writers didn’t feel like a substantial part of who I am as a writer and a person. I carry these dudes with me at all times.

”Jump in” my Dad said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world— as though I was an idiot for not just clambering up myself.

We were standing around the back of an industrial park, in front of a skip.

No doubt they’ll be some people who don’t know what a skip is, other than pleasant enough sounding word. Perhaps you’ve been known to walk with a skip in your step… maybe you’ve tried a Skip, a delicious prawn cocktail flavoured corn snack… quite possibly you’ve seen Skippy the Bush Kangaroo on TV and know sometimes she’s referred to as ‘Skip.’

None of those definitions match the skip I was standing in front of. If you were standing there you’d most likely refer to the skip as a dumpster.

Yes, my Dad wanted me to climb into a dumpster.

Not just any old dumperster, but a dumpster full of corrugated gold: cardboard boxes. We’re moving house, we need boxes. Where else would we go but a dumpster at the back of an electrical supply store?

It was a low point, but from each and every event there are infinite possibilities. One of those possibilities was that it would end up being a mildly amusing anecdote to lead into a TNB post about the infinite possibilities of existence.

Whilst in the skip rooting around for decent sized boxes I slipped and fell. I hit my head on the side of the skip. But it could have been better or worse. I could have stepped on a different piece of cardboard and avoided a pratfall altogether and merely have just found some boxes in a skip. At the other extreme I could have stood on a different piece of cardboard, fallen much harder and shuffled off the mortal coil in a fashion only marginally less embarrassing than David Carradine hanging himself in a cupboard and wanking into oblivion.

This is a world of infinite possibility. My actions in the skip could have led to events that eventually culminated in a world war. I mean, it’s highly unlikely, but at the same time World War One began because a guy in Sarajevo got a bit peckish before lunch.

On the morning of June 28th 1914 somebody decided they were going to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand as he paraded through the streets. That somebody wasn’t Gavrilo Princip, who is perhaps best known for that time he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand causing the outbreak of the first Great War which saw a failed Austrian painter called Adolf join the army, and later the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party who had taken a particularly strong objection to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which brought a formal conclusion to WWI. This in turn led to an eventual rise to power, the breaking of many of the terms of the Treaty and a deeply flawed attempt take over the world and exterminate the Jewish race, which ended with failure and numerous film adaptations. 

World War Two was driven by hunger for revenge and supremacy. World War One was driven by a hunger for a delicious mid-morning snack.

This wasn’t a total coincidence. Princip was already pretty bent on somebody using something to kill Franz Ferdinand, and was in on the whole ‘let’s try and kill him on his parade’ scheme which failed miserably when somebody fired something a touch too eagerly. The grenade intended for the Archduke exploded behind the car and only managed to kill a few pathetic pedestrians that weren’t worth starting a war over. The car sped off in case there were any more hecklers in the crowd.

After this incident Princip went off to a cafe to get himself a post-failed-assassination-commiseration snack, whilst he presumably cursed ACME for their unreliable weapons and vowed to concoct an even more elaborate scheme to murder Ferdinand at a later date.  

By pure chance the driver of the Archduke’s car took a wrong turn on a diverted route. He realised this and broke suddenly.

Right outside the cafe where Gavrilo Princip was spitting out a fresh mouthful of coffee in disbelief and quickly concocting a new assassination plan which essentially boiled down to pistol whipping someone out of the way, going up the car and shooting Franz Ferdinand/changing the course of history forever.

It’s a funny old world.

I’ve been thinking about life changing moments a lot recently, particularly since Brad Listi’s recent post on Why We Exist.

Okay, I’ve been thinking about my life changing moments a lot recently and about luck and fate and all the other things you need to succeed in life beside either talent, good looks, luck, or a willingness to give blowjobs to well connected guys who really want to help you become a star…

Writing is something I’ve done since I was quite young, and I’ve always been told I’m quite good at it. Alongside breathing, repelling girls and cooking potato wedges it’s one of the few things that I’m really, really good at.

However, I never saw how I’d make a living off it. I knew that somehow I’d have to get a degree, and then a job and all sorts of other boring responsibilities that make you wish you could be eight years old forever and just spend all day in your underpants eating cereal and watching cartoons.

When I was a teenager I was shopping with my Mum. That’s the cool kind of guy I am— shopping with Mum, scavenging in dumpsters with Dad. We can’t all go to Disneyland. Anyway, I was happily picking up the usual stuff I read. At that time it was mostly crime fiction, and not very good crime fiction at that. My Mum presented me with a book, a bright orange book where the title was scrawled and the cover was a cartoon. She had only one recollection of the book: that she’d read it. That was it. I looked at it and decided it might be pretty cool.

And through that book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was introduced to Hunter S. Thompson and the notion that writing wasn’t just a sad pathetic thing that boring people did in Victorian times. Writing could be fun and exhilarating and really quite cool.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Los Angeles there was a guy who had recently written hundreds of sentences, which when read in chronological order told a story as good as any novel.

In fact it was so good that it soon became one of the ‘any novels’ that excellent unpublished novels rated themselves against. The only problem the author had was in selling as many copies of his book as possible. Then there was also the fact that he’d recently heard about the ancient mythical Japanese ‘Page of Many Voices’* and wanted to create a real version of it— on the internet if at all possible. It was a dream that would have been almost impossible, were he not living in a world of infinite possibility.

After some period of time I was in my bedroom writing about things. Through a MySpace group dedicated to Hunter S. Thompson I’d come across a guy from Scotland living in Korea who was willing to publish something I’d written. I’d also responded to almost every classified ad asking for writers willing to write for free. Of all of these Kerb Magazine became the one I got the most out of/put the most into. I was writing, and I was writing a lot. As well as writing savage indictments of political figures I was also writing screenplays and started novels about Vegas based cops with dark pasts.

All of these were abandoned.

I got a message from a guy in America who’d just published his first novel and he was inviting me to join his literary community. And that guy was…

Jonathan Evison.

Why, who did you think I was talking about?

Well, to cut a short story shorter, I didn’t take up the invitation. I was a busy man writing doomed to fail novels. I didn’t have time for literary community nonsense.

And later when I got an invitation from another debut author inviting me to read his blog I took a quick glance at that day’s entry, replied and exchanged around three messages. I liked the guy. His profile picture was of his face, which was a pleasant and friendly looking face.

This led to first the Brad Listi MySpace blog, which was really quite popular. This in turn led to Brad’s blog which wasn’t on MySpace, and it was really quite popular. And it was here I was tricked. It seemed as though Brad had blogged again, but the link took me to a different site. It certainly looked similar, but it was clearly different. It looked a lot like the old version of this site, which is largely due to the fact that it was.

This could only have happened in the 21st century. And along the way there were infinite possibilities at every turn. As well as the many things that worked towards me getting here, there were an unlimited number of circumstances which could have taken me somewhere else, got me here a different way or ended with me being murdered by a talking bear in a clown costume. I embarked on a short and dismal career in stand up comedy at one point between getting here and becoming one of Brad’s many MySpace readers. Again, that could have ended in any number of ways.

I only got really into TNB commenting because I was alone and a bit depressed at university. Had things worked out better I wouldn’t have left so many comments and wonderful people like Gloria, Becky, Tawni, Ashley and Tammy wouldn’t have urged Brad to make me a contributor. And I only qualified because I’d been published— in Beatdom. I didn’t know at that time that David Wills was a TNB reader and he joined the site the day after I did.

And now, to get slightly sentimental, I think about how dull and empty my life might have been. Because more than the opportunity to not only write, but have wonderful intelligent people read it and then say nice things about it, it’s a wonderful place to be and to interact with people.

I think about infinite possibilities a lot. Also I think about the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, except behind each door is a complete alternate timeline instead of a boring romantic comedy. A world where Hitler got into art school and didn’t mind the Jews so much… a world where she said yes and not no… a world where scheduling conflicts with Magnum P.I didn’t prevent Tom Selleck from playing Indiana Jones… a world where I just ignored another first time author trying to make a name for himself…


Infinite possibilities… One guy might eat a sandwich and get indigestion… another might eat a sandwich and end up causing a global conflict…

And somewhere in a world of infinite possibility there is a version of this post with a much better ending…




*This isn’t real. Or is it?**

**No, it isn’t.




JE: Okay, so before I talk about Josh Mohr the writer, I just wanna’ say that I love the synergy Josh and his publisher Eric Obenauf at Two Dollar Radio have going. A publisher and a writer helping each other help themselves. Josh is writing great books and hustling (I’m guessing not for huge advances), while Eric is really working to connect Josh with readers, and doing his damndest to make Josh a successful author (not just a title). I was one lucky sonofabitch to have had such a synergy with Richard Nash at Soft Skull. Sadly, in an industry where most writers are hung unwittingly out to dry, this is a rare situation.

A few words on Josh, the writer: Josh is one of those writers I like best because he writes stuff I would never write. Approaches narratives in a way I wouldn’t approach them. Pushes himself (and me) out of his comfort zone. That excites me. Josh’s characters rescue burnt sofas. Push their lovers down stairwells. Wallow in dumpsters. And his language never ceases to surprise. Josh’s second novel, Termite Parade, was recently unleashed on the world, only a year after his successful debut (Two Dollar Radio’s first bestseller), Some Things That Meant the World to Me.

I got drunk and interviewed Josh when I should have been writing. I’ll bet he was drunk too, and should have been writing.


JE:  Josh, your narratives come from a dark and squalid place, as though your mental furniture might look something like Rhonda’s immolated sofa. What is it about squalor that attracts you? And when are we gonna’ see a paranormal romance from you?

JM: No paranormal bodice-rippers, per se, but I do have a bitchin’ idea for a new vampire book.  I know, I know, the kidz are tired of vampires… but they’ve never seem them like this before…

Imagine: a young male vampire joins the navy and he’s stationed on a submarine.  Once they’re underwater, it’s always dark, so he can “vamp out” 24/7.  The tag line can be “It’s always midnight at 10,000 leagues!”  And on the cover, it could have a sub with fangs sticking from the front.  You know, John, if we actually wrote that as a screenplay we could both retire!

But about squalor, I can’t say that consciously I’m attracted to it.  I like hyperbole, exaggeration; often the stakes are the highest for those bottoming out, either literally, psychologically, or both.

So for example, in my new book Termite Parade, the hyperbolic incident is that a man drops his girlfriend down the stairs.  It’s an aggressive image, but these sorts of things happen all the time.  It’s ostensibly a story about betrayal; it’s the same story if the man cheats on the woman–that’s just as devastating a betrayal, though its violence isn’t grounded in physicality, but emotion.

Infidelity, though, isn’t interesting to me.  I want metaphors that indict us at greater volumes than the ones we’ve come to accept as pedestrian.  I want to use inflated imagery to lure readers into the narrative and often that leads me into grim circumstances.


Great answer. Although, I think you’re a little hopeful about the screenplay market. Roger Corman would love it. I know a guy who worked for him twenty years ago (we’re on our way!). When we both get really rich, we should chip in on that submarine, for real–that’d be one kickass man-cave. And in addition to fangs, I think we should get it fitted with a jean vest. Talk to me about the genesis of your novels. Where did you begin with Termite Parade? With the situation? And what about with Some Things That Meant the World to Me? With the character of Rhonda?

I always start with image.  For Some Things, I knew I wanted to write about a broken home, but that territory has been trampled so much over the years, I needed a new way into it.  So I decided to literally break the home: its rooms drifting away from one another like the separating continents.

Once I’d established the surreality, all bets were off in terms of “rules,” so as Rhonda told me more about who he is as a real person (and yes, I do believe our characters are real people), I filled the blanks in from there.  I revise compulsively; that’s where the real hard work happens, where the clay gets molded into sculpture.

Termite started from an exercise I heard that the poet Robert Haas uses: he’ll spend months working on one poem, rewriting and rewritng, trying to earn that last line (the pay-off line in any poem).  But this is actually just the beginning: because then Haas uses that pay-off line as the first line of a new poem (the one he’s been interested in all along).  The logic is that his imagination will go to skyscraping places if he uses the “pay-off” as the beginning, to build up from it as a foundation and traverse into daring terrain.

So I wrote a short story using the image of a man dropping his girlfriend down the stairs as its climax.  I worked on it for about eight months, got it to where it was ready to publish.  Then I yanked the climax and used it as the point of entry to what eventually grew into Termite Parade.

I don’t write with an outline or any kind of plan; I like the reckless discovery of surprising myself with each plot point.  Of course, this leads to lots of wrong turns–maybe why I have to revise so much–but I dig that wanton, blind strategy of building story without any scaffolding around it.


You have a great facility for talking about your work. I think a lot of writers like to mystify the process—kinda’ like ballplayers with their cliches. And speaking of cliches: writing really is rewriting. For me, that’s where the magic happens. I totally feel you on the reckless discovery. For me, that usually means discovering the character, and once the character is fully realized, they seem to have a destiny of their own, and I’m just hurrying to catch up, watching along with the reader. Tell me a little bit about what you’re working on now. Or are you one of those writers who thinks he’ll jinx himself if he talks about his work in progress?

I’m not a superstitious person, been known to walk under a ladder or two in my day.  I’m happy to talk about what I’m working on now.  I challenge myself with every book to try and tackle some literary feat of such an encoded nature that only I’ll notice.  For example, in Termite Parade,”my goal was to try and create as much chaos on the page in the climactic sequence as Sam Shepard‘s play Buried Child. I’m not sure if you’ve seen a production of it or not, but by the time the action hits its peak, all hell has certainly broken loose.  Shepard is one of my heroes.

I read a lot of plays because it reminds me not to rely too heavily on thought process, to let my “actors” characterize themselves on the page, via dialogue, gesture, and body language.  Obviously, thought process is important, but when it’s overused/abused, interiority brings the narrative to a screeching halt.

In this new book (tentatively titled Machines that Ache in Their C: Drives), I’m working on an ensemble piece, hopefully a distant, debauched cousin to a Robert Altman film.  These first 3-novels have been a cycle, all set in San Francisco at the same time, overlapping characters, locales, imagery and themes.  Some Thingsintroduced a bar called Damascus, and a bunch of  Machines takes place there.

The book is about an anti-war art show.  A painter has put together 12 portraits of dead American soldiers.  During the art opening, she nails a cat fish to each canvas, so as they hang, the room will smell like death, decomposition: it will remind the studio audience back home that soldiers are dying on their behalves.  Some folks take umbrage with the artist’s expression and hostile shenanigans ensue.  Where would we be without hostile shenanigans?

Of course, it’s about 38 other things, too, but that’s the only one that makes a tidy synopsis.  It’s by far the most fun I’ve ever had on the page, though that might not be saying much: Termite Parade was quite a wrestling match.  I’m not sure I won.


I love that you’re pushing yourself. If I’m gonna’ invest five to twenty hours reading a book, I want to know that the writer is pushing himself (or herself). And that’s the only thing I wanna’ know about the writer. Otherwise, I want the writer to be invisible, to get out of the way, and just let me to get lost in the story. You do a good job of that.

On the operations side, tell me about working with Eric Obenauf at Two Dollar Radio. He really seems to have your back as an author, and that’s a lot rarer than it ought to be. Not all writers get the benefit of that kind of support.

Well, I was pretty busted up by the time my manuscripts made it to Eric and 2DR.  And that’s not a typo, I meant “manuscripts”… plural.  My first agent couldn’t sell Some Things (Pun intended).  In fact, she told me to write a 2nd book and forget about number one, and when she couldn’t sell the 2nd, she fired me.  About a year later, after regrouping and finding new representation, 2DR bought Termite Parade and we were able to piggyback Some Things onto that contract.

That’s why it felt like such a coup for the indie press when Some Things went on to make O Magazine’s Top 10 reads of ’09 list.  I mean, people kept saying that the material is too grim, that it isn’t commercially viable, and here’s O, one of the most mainstream publications going and they pick it out of the haystack.  I was stunned, wonderfully stunned.  They changed that book’s life, and I’m immensely grateful.

Two Dollar Radio only puts out four or five titles a year.  It’s Eric, his wife, Eliza, and Eric’s younger brother, Brian.  And that’s it!  That’s the whole shop.  So it’s a family thing and that grassroots feeling permeates the whole experience.  I love it.  I’m very comfortable on the fringe.  I like that role of being underestimated.  There are very few expectations of me, and so if something goes well, it’s just gravy.  I feel like I’m playing with house money… except in this particular example there’s no money.  Or a house.

For any aspiring writers out there, don’t just assume that one of the big, swanky corporate publishers is the right fit for you.  Especially if your material is transgressive, prurient, etc.  You might be better served with a smaller house that won’t consider your book to be a failure if it sells 3,000 copies.  Every writer should have an editor that shares your vision of the book’s identity.  You don’t want someone who’s trying to water down your material simply to fit you into a shiny marketing box.  I’ve definitely found that invaluable synergy with Eric and Eliza.  It’s worth much more than a big advance.

I also think it creates a huge camaraderie between us because we’re doing it all ourselves.  There’s no marketing or sales departments.  It’s just us shaking trees, making the phone calls, pimping books.  Probably because of all my years playing in crappy bands, but I like being involved with that stuff.  The thing I’m the most scared of as a writer is investing 3, 4, or 5 years writing a book, and it comes out and vanishes without a trace.  Unfortunately, it happens all the time–good books get lost in the shuffle (and bad ones get hype because of nepotism).  So I can use my anxiety about this phenomenon as gasoline to hop on the phone or send a batch of emails or cyber-stalk those that need cyber-stalking.  I’m a pro-active cat when it comes to these sorts of things.

Last thing I’ll say about 2DR, and maybe this is all that needs to be said: I just tattooed their logo on my shoulder.  That should speak to how I feel about them.  And so to end with another of those dastardly cliches, the proof ain’t in the pudding, folks, it’s inked on my skin.

I admire Ron Currie Jr. for a bunch of reasons, but most of all for the risks he takes. It takes brass balls to write a book like God is Dead, or Everything Matters! And it takes commitment to work a bunch of shitty jobs and believe you can write books and not starve. But by god, Ron Currie Jr. is not starving, and we should all feel good about that. All RC Jr. is doing is winning awards and selling books, and pushing himself (and his narratives) into new places. It pays to get dangerous sometimes. Everything Matters! is about to drop in paperback, and those of you who were too cheap to buy it in hardcover oughta pry a few bucks out of your wallet and buy the PB release.

Here’s a transcript of a conversation we had recently involving a wide range of topics, including books, writing, idealism, cynicism, and the Fitzgerald blues….

In his debut novel The Futurist, James P. Othmer demonstrates a talent for biting satire, gorgeous prose, and dark humor that, to me, calls to mind another ad-man-cum-novelist, Joseph Heller.  Holy Water, his prescient new novel, does nothing to alter my impression.

Jason Chambers, writing at 3G1B and here, calls Holy Water a “fine book: funny, smart and strangely hopeful for revolution.”  I agree, and I’ll add that I wish more writers shared Othmer’s ability to so ruthlessly and engagingly portray the patent absurdity of corporate America.

I chatted with Othmer last week.  Here is a transcript of our far-ranging discussion:


*****

G.M.O.: Holy Water is probably the first work of lit fiction to reference Spoon on the first page.

J.P.O.: Are you sure someone in Austin didn’t get to it earlier, perhaps in the acks?

I wouldn’t know…I’m not that hip.

Me neither. I rely on much younger friends for that kind of stuff. For all I know, Spoon is a polka band.

I’m more of a Kenny Rogers guy

Nothing wrong with Kenny Rogers.

I wondered if you had music informants.

I have friends who come over and give me burned CDs in exchange for exotic beer and my bitter world view.

Sounds like a fair trade to me. So what’s your favorite exotic beer? Any recommendations?

I’m liking the Capt. Lawrence out of Pleasantville. Anything Dog Fish Head works for me. I’m all about the high alcohol content, until I vomit.

And once you vomit?

Once I vomit, it’s strictly Coors Light and Kenny Rogers.

A match made in heaven, if heaven is Branson, Missouri. But we digress. Henry Tuhoe, your protagonist, has very hip taste in tunes.  Do you?

I love music, but I know so many people for whom it’s a religion. I envied their obsession and occasionally their taste, and I wanted my protagonist to have that sort of relationship with, as the kids say, the hip music folks. Similar to my relationship with books.

You convey that nicely.

Thanks. Showing one’s music cred on her sleeve seems to be more popular with Gen Xers, but if the recommendations are good, brag away. Again, I’m the same way with books, not necessarily being an aficionado, but constantly looking for recommendations from others.

I think it’s also something that men of our age do to retain their perceived youth…the Gen X equivalent of buying a convertible.

Which is why I’m talking to you, hip writer of books and player of Kubb.

I am so not hip, but it’s nice of you to say so.

 

 

Kubb was a revelation. I never realized how much fun it was to throw wood at other pieces of wood. Anyway, I want Henry’s iPod.

I believe Henry’s iPod is now in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

It deserves a better final resting place than Cleveland. Yates, the eponymous futurist of your first novel, is almost a superhero. A superhero in crisis, sure, but an alpha male. Henry Tuhoe, on the other hand, the protagonist of Holy Water, is a nebbish, a paradigmatic beta male. Where on that spectrum does James P. Othmer fall?

I’m a flawed super hero. Like Captain Bedwetter or something. Or a bit of both, because both represent in a lot of ways, two diametrically opposed sort of worse-case scenario versions of me.

I can see that. There’s definitely commonalities between Yates and Henry.

Well they’re both completely disillusioned with where their life has taken them. Henry’s “conscientious fulfillment of limited expectations” and Yates’s crises of conscience.

Your characters travel to far-flung places How much actual travel have you done? Have you ever been to the Himalayas, or Greenland?

The good part about the soul-selling ad-guy portion of my life is I got to travel quite a bit. However, not Greenland or the fictional kingdom of Galado. Galado, by the way, is a combo of Swift’s Lagado and Bhutan.

Were you in Bhutan?

Alas, no. I was trying to get a magazine I was writing for, Conde Nast Portfolio, to spring for the trip to do a piece on Gross National Happiness. But my editor got fired while I was doing a piece on the ad festival at Cannes and the magazine went under soon after. Would’ve been sweet.

So how did you research it?

Henry did what I did. Google. Lonely Planet. Some incredibly poorly produced travel videos…lack of travel money (post advertising) has forced me to invent countries rather than visit them. And it’s a lot of fun. Soon I will have to take it to the next level and, you know, rule one.

It would be fun to be a dictator. And I hear you about the lack of travel. Although we do get to Connecticut occasionally.

Connecticut is the next Prague.

Ha! The prince of Galado reminded me of a cross between one of the princes in Syriana and the Ben Stiller character in Dodgeball. And I mean that as a complement

And a little Kim Jong Il, at least the version I saw in Team America. Sometimes I wonder if I’m crossing the line with absurdity, but then I turn on the news.

 

I was just discussing with my friends how Kim Jong Il really did a great job reading 1984 and making it a reality.

Except for the nuclear capability and the sneak attacks on South Korean subs, he’s sort of awesome.

He sure makes my heart go pitter-pat.

If he’s still alive, that is.

He does this bad-ass despot stuff, but manages to look like a drag queen Dr. No.

Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il seem to have the same stylist.

Ken Pavès, is what I heard—the guy who does Jessica Simpson’s hair.

Don’t pick on her. Poor girl’s been through so much. How dare you, John Mayer!

 

I may be confusing my U.S. News with my US Weekly.

Doesn’t matter. Both will be out of print by August. You read it here, first.

I don’t get the appeal of John Mayer…or Justin Timberlake, either, for that matter.

I just hope I live long enough to see the broken down, lonely, sexless versions of Mayer and Timberlake. Though JT is a surprisingly funny dude.

Yeah, he is funny. I’ll grant him that. I just wish he were nicer to poor Jessica Biel. Maybe it’s the name “Jessica” that somehow attracts bad boyfriends? As for the broken-down Mayer, that will also happen by August.

We’ve really gone high-brow here, huh?

Yeah, we should probably leave John Mayer to wither into sexless obscurity and get back to the matter at hand. Holy Water opens with a river on fire; basically, oil on the water has burst into flames. Eerily prescient, as that could happen in the Gulf any day now.

Yeah. Bad news for humanity. But great for me and my 1631 readers. What’s happening in the Gulf is what’s happening in my magical kingdom of Galado. Corporate hubris and neglect run amok.

Yup. Colin Powell, for one, spoke about water as the new oil, in that future wars will concern water.

I didn’t know the Colin Powell line, but I believe it.

It’s amazing, when you stop and think about it, that the one most integral thing we need for survival falls out of the fucking sky.

I liked the idea of having water as a theme, something natural and abundant and free being polluted and sold and fought over and, in the case of Holy Water, bottled and sold through a back-office call center in a draught-plagued nation.

I read an article in The New Yorker a few years back about how the Southwest U.S. will have huge problems with water supply in the years to come—that dividing the states into pleasant shapes, the way they did, rather than creating borders based on water supply, was a terrible idea (although great for kids’ U.S. state puzzles).

I read that article as well. Chinatown was ahead of the curve on that.

“The water commissioner drowns during a drought…only in L.A.”

In fact, the history of the town I live in, Mahopac, was corrupted by water. In 1871 neighborhoods were moved to make way for reservoir to provide H2O to New York City, and Boss Tweed had his corrupt fingers all over it.

That happened a lot upstate. Whole towns were drowned to build the reservoirs.

Ashokan, right? I have an abandoned novel that is set in that period. I like it, and there’s not one joke in the whole thing.

I think it’d be a fertile topic for a novel. The idea of saying goodbye to a hometown, forever. Sad and kind of creepy.

My dead book starts with a house being pulled by horse and capstan through a valley, on timbers.

I don’t know what a capstan is.

John Mayer does.

He’s going to need to, as his career is toast in a few weeks. But enough about water shortages, corporate corruption, and ruination of mankind…let’s talk about big boobs.

Stay classy, New Paltz.

Meredith, your book’s most buxom character and its emotional center…

Meredith, killer admin by day, big boob web goddess by night…

She’s Joan Holloway for the 21st century.

 

 

She has a great speech I’m too lazy to look up, about how the societal role of men is in flux.

Her speech does make some salient points about the state of modern man. A friend of mine was the head of research for Leo Burnett in Chicago and they conducted a world wide man study…

That sounds like a reality show.

She spoke to thousands of men in dozens of countries and was kind enough to share.

Masculinity is a theme in Holy Water. For example, there is much talk of vasectomies. I see the vasectomy as a rite of passage for fathers of a certain age, not unlike the self-mutilation ceremonies performed by some primitive tribes at puberty, perhaps also in Galado. At the risk of getting too personal: have you been snipped?

Well, Greg, no. I haven’t been snipped (the book’s original title, by the way)…

Wimp.

…but it certainly was in the suburban air in my part of the world and I thought it made for an interesting flash point. Have you had breast reduction surgery?

I made Jonathan swear never to tell anyone!

Does he perform that as well?

Evison does everything. I think he practices on the rabbits.

I hope I got my snipped facts right. I certainly had a lot of access to those who were, who will and who might. Some of whom were also my music muses.

I have, in fact, been snipped. It’s very much not a big deal, although it did bring up a lot of stuff for me beforehand. I think you do a nice job conveying that sense of anxiety.

Thanks. I’m a chameleon when it comes to conveying anxiety.

We’re at 2000 words, so we should probably wrap this up.

Depressing, especially in light of the fact that I’ve written about 500 in the first 6 hours of today.

What’s next for you? Book tour? Movie deal? Extradition to Galado?

I’m working on a novel about the financial world.

This makes me happy. I think you have a keen insight into the business world that many fiction writers lack, and I’m psyched for the next one.

Oddly, not a huge book tour in the U.S. I did a lot for Adland and have decided to write instead of self promote. Which is not at all like me. However, while I’ve been invited to exactly zero writer’s festivals or conferences in the U.S., I’ve been asked to attend three in Australia this summer. Bringing the whole family, which means I’ll lose about $5k by the end of August.

We novelists do live high on the hog. Well, have fun Down Under. And thanks for stopping by TNB.

Well thanks, and thanks for having me. Love TNB. Whatever the hell that is.


JC: By now you should have heard about Sam Munson. His first novel The November Criminals is on sale this week and deserves your attention. It’s the story of drug peddling high school senior Addison Schact, investigating the murder of a classmate encumbered by his (not) girlfriend and . It’s awkwardly funny and appropriately cynical, with the expected echoes of Holden Caulfield. Check back tomorrow for a review and a chance to win one of five copies. Here’s Sam’s version of When We Fell In Love:

Sam Munson: I was flattered to be asked to write a piece for this series, and wary at the same time: it’s not clear to me why an anecdotal history of my reading habits might be interesting to anyone at all. I am still very young and have achieved very little. There is also, I am sorry to say, always an element of glory-borrowing in such autobiographical dabblings, or at least it seems that way to me. Self-assessment of the kind so causally demanded and practiced by people of literary profession verges, I would argue, on the impossible: who can say, after all, what the decisive moments in his own biography are? Who knows his own influences? When we identify an artist as a touchstone, a fulcrum, or whatever other clumsy machine-metaphor you like, we reveal far more about our warped self-understanding than we do about the subject of our disclosures. That we have been influenced and inclined towards art by occurrences and events outside of art I take as an article of faith. Memories, clouds, plant-scents, scraps of overheard conversation, violent, inexplicable surges of elation or despair, a simultaneous attraction to and repulsion by monotony—these, if anything, constitute the real impetus underlying the desire to write, these and a deep-seated, unconquerable inarticulacy.

I could provide a list of books I’ve loved, but I am ashamed to, because to do so seems to me presumptuous. I have the unfortunate sort of face that inspires people, usually drunks, to hand over their biographical details to me. But even this conceals self-praise. Let me say rather: I am too cowardly to discourage people from speaking to me, or that my capacious memory for the trivia of other people’s lives reflects a consitutional empty-headedness on my part.

Robert Musil once remarked on the utility of a great regret in life, as it can be precisely the necessary spur to serious achievement: he also—only half-facetiously—suggested that intellect requires an admixture of stupidity to undertake its work in the world. I do not claim to possess a strong intellect, or any intellect whatsoever, for that matter, but I am equipped with ample stupidity; I am not blessed with anything so clear and powerful as a great regret, but I do suffer all the petty inner agonies of the bourgeois, and those quite acutely, despite their inherent bathos. And, with a character so constituted, love of art serves little to no purpose, at least as love of art is usually defined. Does this make me a philistine? A nihilist? Simply a bore? (I suspect it’s that last.)

There is, however, a significant piece of biographical information relevant to this enterprise that I do not mind revealing, as I think it will give readers an even clearer picture of my bad character. My forthcoming novel, The November Criminals, was written in a short period of time, about four months. This, at least if I am to judge by people’s responses, is unusually fast. I am often asked for an explanation of my speed. At first these questions left me openmouthed, gaping . . . reflection, though, has led me to one conclusion. I was motivated primarily by jealousy, and even resentment; these both directed toward a friend, a few years younger than me, who had written and published a novel. And with a hag like that on your back, anything is possible. At any speed.

We were gone for two weeks over Easter break.  Two weeks, three places.  South, farther south and gloriously hot.  As always, when we weren’t moving we knew we’d be consuming stories in the form of books.  What to bring?

It occurred to me, before setting out, that I “owed” a few people a read.  For one thing, there was Brad Listi, who encouraged me to publish an entire novel — Cadaver Blues — online, serially, on the website he conjured out of thin air.  Like a lot of things one conjures out of thin air, the site took on a life of its own, but Brad continued to encourage.  I should return the favor, I thought, by buying and reading his book.

I was somewhere between being indefinitely alone, and finding someone, when a copy of Birds of America came along, actually two copies.  I had just broken up with a girl I had no business breaking up with when I gave her my extra copy of Birds of America as a kind of bonus for letting me break up with her.  I never read the book, and until last night, never read Lorrie Moore.  There is no good reason why this gap in my reading history exists, but there it is.

There is an overwhelming power to the this first story in Birds of America, the much praised collection, and if you’re still reading this review at this point, and have not dismissed me completely, then hold on a second, and I’ll tell you why.

Sidra is a mildly famous actor, in the way say, Michelle Forbes is a mildly famous actor, and Sidra has decided to leave L.A. for the comfortable luxury of Chicago, and she feels better for it immediately.  She becomes our hero and a lonely woman at the very moment we find out that she’s living in a run down motel, eating, sleeping and watching the outside world go by.  Sidra is a chiseled creation, a woman without the burden of girlie things to hold her down.  She speaks in sentences that erase from your mind that she really is, and she dates a man who is too stupid to realize she’s a famous actress, who, as she puts it, was nominated for a major award once.

Sidra goes from one end of the story to the other making the occasional call to the west coast to people who miss her, really miss her, or they’re sad she’s not there because they can’t exploit her.  The man she dates named Walter seems like a kind of half remembered fiction, even to himself.  He goes on a date with another woman while dating Sidra, but isn’t honest with her, and why should he be?  She talks about willingness, to be willing to do something like debase herself as an actress to a group of strangers, she takes her clothes off in movies, and her own father avoids her when she comes to visit.

I don’t know if Moore is trying to tell us something powerful she’s found in being a woman, famous for something that seems cliché, or she wants to appear naïve in the development of her characters, and let them self realize on the page.  This story moves everywhere and nowhere all at once, and what’s most apparent to the reader is Moore’s incredible assured voice, almost too smart for the coffin she’s fitted for Sidra.  Like a girl who should be wearing better shoes, but falls back on a pair of Chuck Taylors.

-JR

port bonita

December, 1889

On the afternoon of December 14th, in the year of our lord 1889, the good steamer George E. Starr chugged around Ediz Hook in a driving squall, her bowels belching hemlock and cedar, as she pulled into ragged Port Bonita. When she landed at Morse Dock, nobody clamored to greet her. Only a few tatters of wet silk bunting were left to mark the occasion, when young Ethan Thornburgh strode off the George E. Starr onto an empty dock, clutching a lone leather suitcase, with the wind at his back, and his silver-eyed gaze leveled straight at the future. He might have looked like a dandy to the casual observer, a young man of some distinction, all buttoned up in a brown suit with tails, freshly coiffed, smelling of camphor and spices, his cleft chin clean-shaven, a waxed mustache mantling his lip like two sea horses kissing. But upon closer inspection, visible through the shifting mothholes in his wool trousers, a trained eye might have observed the shoe polish daubed on his underwear, or the fear in his silver-eyed gaze. One might even have glimpsed the yellow blue remnants of a shiner beneath his right eye.

Last summer, the legendary Booksmith in San Francisco made me my very own author “baseball card,” which was too cool, even though I look like a total cheese-dick in the publicity photo. The card said some nice things on the back regarding All About Lulu, and there was a blurb from one of my favorite writers, Tim Sandlin. But no stats!

When I was about to publish my novel, Banned for Life, I had a number of exchanges with Jonathan Evison, whose counsel I sought with regard to promotion, among other matters. He was aware of certain aspects of my past, and he advised me to be forthcoming about them, since to do otherwise, he said, would amount to breaking faith with readers.

Jonathan is a wise man, but I regarded Banned as my child, and so wanted to shield it from the sins of its father. I imagined dismissive reviews based less on the book and more on my rap sheet, as well as sneering remarks posted on message boards. Paranoia? But I’ve been the target of such remarks, and I wanted to give Banned a running start before falling on my sword.

Now, I figure, the time has come. Banned has barely been noticed since it appeared more than six months ago, and I’ve tested the waters with friends made since, and none have responded as feared.

Daffy Duck was my first role model, and probably my most enduring. Those who know me, will recognize in my person Daffy’s Quixotic optimism, his dogged determination, his wet and unstoppable verbal bombast—in short, his mania. Daffy is a blur. He completely and perpetually defies inertia. Daffy is tireless, his appetites never wane, his energy never flags. Daffy feels best with four hours sleep. Daffy can preach, wax, eat an entire buffet, drink twelve beers, preach some more, peel the labels off the empty bottles, stack the coasters, give you an unsolicited pep talk, tease, hector, and encourage you in the same breath, and when that’s done, Daffy can jump in his car and drive twenty-six hours straight to Tuscon, rouse his friend out of bed, and force him to go bowling.


Jess Walter (The Zero, Citizen Vince) is an expansive writer. He has more voice in his little finger than most novelists will ever possess. He can digress, delineate, rant, rave, ponder, speculate, ruminate, fulminate, and bring the story to a screeching halt if it suits his whimsy, and readers will still follow along breathlessly.

TFLotP is the story of everyman Matt Prior, father, husband, unemployed newspaper man, upside down homeowner, and poster boy for the current financial crisis. His start-up Poetfolio.com was a miserable failure, his wife may be having an affair, and he’s got less than a week before lenders foreclose on his house. When Matt hatches some questionable strategies to combat his dire situation, the real unraveling begins. What follows is funny, compelling, compulsively readable stuff.

Here’s how much I like Walter’s voice: Though The Financial Lives of the Poets has a slow fuse, much of the coming-of-middle-age turf is well-worn, a few of the plot points feel like warmed over television fare, the poetry is irritating at times, and the resolution feels a little forced, Walter’s voice is flat out unstoppable—the guy could write about pneumatic tools and I’d be on the edge of my seat.

This may be the second funniest book I’ve read this year, after Steve Hely’s, How I Became a Famous Novelist.

JE



Joshua MohrJE: WWFiL is a new series we’re starting here at Three Guys, in which the fellas and I ask some of our favorite writers to guest blog a short essay about a book or books, or maybe an author, that made them fall in love in with reading. We wanted to know who they were, and how the book changed them, and who they’ve become as readers and writers and book people. In the coming months, you’ll be hearing from a dizzying array of writers, all of whom have one thing in common: we’ve covered them here at Three Guys One Book.

A couple weeks back I covered Joshua Mohr’s badass and unsettling debut from Two Dollar Radio, Some Things That Meant the World to Me. We Three Guys love watching young talent emerge and develop, and look forward to more from Mohr, beginning with next year’s follow up, Termite Parade, also brought to you by our favorite family joint, Two Dollar Radio. Here’s Joshua Mohr on when he fell in love:

Joshua Mohr: I was one of those high school students who thought reading was bullshit.  And books like “Red Badge of Courage”, “Ethan Frome”, and “Pride and Prejudice” weren’t helping my opinion that literature was pretentious and stuck up.  I didn’t want any part of the canon, if it was comprised of stilted and boring narratives.  Or as Bukowski put it in his introduction to John Fante’s “Ask the Dust”: “…nothing I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me.”

Then my senior year in high school–having literally faked my way through every book report I’d ever written–my English teacher busted me on it.  He said it was obvious that I hadn’t read the assigned book and handed me a copy of Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”; I had two days to read the book, write a report, hand it in, or he’d flunk me.  I begrudgingly left with yet another novel I didn’t want to read.

But read it I did because repeating my senior year didn’t seem like a solid option, and the book changed me. Everything I thought I knew about literature was wrong.  It wasn’t boring or stilted, or at least it didn’t have to be.  In the right hands, literature was vibrant and exciting and unpredictable and could make you laugh and break your heart and it could even do all these things at once.  I was hooked.  I asked that teacher for a reading list and he recommended Plath, Kesey, Paley, and Huxley, and just like that, I was a fiend.

As an aside, I tried to contact this teacher years later to let him know the immense influence he’d had on me: that I was turning into a writer myself, thanking him for first showing me Vonnegut.  He never responded to my email.  He didn’t care or didn’t get it.  Or he remembered me as a piss-ant stoner wasting his time.  I can’t really argue with that.  As Billy Pilgrim would say, “So it goes.”

We’ve had so much fun with the 50 Things Writers Shouldn’t Do post (currently up to roughly a gazillion things writer’s shouldn’t do), that we decided to turn the tables, and solicit your help in creating a list of things publishers shouldn’t do.


JE:

  • Don’t try to capture lightning in a bottle—just promote your authors instead.
  • Don’t publish “the next” anything.
  • Don’t look for “the sure thing.”
  • Don’t overpay debut authors—nine times out of ten, you’re ruining at least one career.
  • Don’t publish debuts in HC—TPO is the way to go!
  • Don’t pretend that Bookscan is in any way prescriptive in negotiating author advances.
  • Don’t send royalty statements six weeks late.
  • Don’t publish so damn many titles!
  • Don’t put a dog on the cover of a book as a means of persuading consumers.
  • Don’t put a dog on the cover at all (it’s over, okay, O-V-E-R, dogs are 2006)

JC:

  • Don’t pad the advance print run to buyers to try to get them to buy more. If you’re printing so many of them, I won’t have any trouble getting them later, will I?
  • Don’t use props in author photos. (except hats. I’ll accept reasonable hats (i’m looking at you JE), but nothing that belongs in mardigras, and no indiana jones hats for thrillers about archeologists.)
  • Don’t let poorly copyedited books go out the door. This is a huge annoyance to me. Half the books I read seem to have typos or punctuation errors in them. Christ, give the intern one last go at it.
  • Don’t make the blurbs and blurb authors more prominent than the author or book they are promoting.
  • Don’t publish books you aren’t interested in promoting.
  • Don’t do what everyone else is doing.
  • Don’t pay an advance the book has no chance of recouping.
  • Don’t over-distribute to one channel while underselling another.
  • Don’t tell accounts who can sell your book now that you are “waiting for returns.”
  • Don’t be afraid to edit books by big authors. I love great big doorstop books. 500 pages, 800 pages, whatever, but a lot of books would benefit from a little slicing and dicing, even the big guys.

JR:

  • Don’t publish a well known literary author, and never reprint the book, even after it gets glowing reviews.
  • Don’t sell that well known author in at the chains, leaving almost nothing for the independents, which have to wait for a reprint that will never come.
  • Don’t depend on a talk show host to sell your books.
  • Don’t pretend like you’re too good to read a query letter. You’re a publisher of books. That’s what happens when you hang out your shingle.
  • Don’t publish anymore books about Vampires or Pirates.  I don’t care who has died and left a manuscript unpublished.
  • Don’t pay comedians six figures to write about their life, unless it’s Jim Norton. That last book was some funny shit.
  • Don’t publish a second book from an author whose first book sold well, when the second book is the same thing as the first.
  • Don’t publish books that you can’t distribute.
  • Don’t pretend that the chains will be here forever.  Just because they have all that space, doesn’t mean you have to fill it.
  • Don’t pretend like bloggers don’t exist. When we ask for a review copy it’s because we want to talk about how great the book is. Not sell it on Ebay.

DH:

  • Don’t say in your publicity that you will be working with literary blogs to promote your author and then blow off the bloggers. You have to actually do it if you say that you will.
  • If you want to do an interview between your writer and a Blogger, then step out of the way and let the writer and the blogger talk to each other. Why? A good interview depends on the establishment of trust. Two people can’t trust each other if they have to have a go-between in their conversation.
  • Every legitimate email to a publishing house should be answered. What amazes me is that most so-called marketing departments don’t want to talk. You want word-of-mouth for your book? Doesn’t that mean that you have to open your own mouth? I dunno…but it doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.
  • Now that I got that off my chest…I understand that no one describes a book as “wise and witty”anymore. Thank goodness. But the substitutes for this phrase that involve a double alliteration aren’t any better. Don’t do it.
  • Jump into the pool if you want to use social media. If your writers are beating you to the punch, then what are you there for? I just learned that a writer I like has written enough of a new novel to give some preliminary readings. Now I even know what the title of the novel will be. For a fan this is great. But did I learn this from the publisher? No. I learned it from the writer’s Facebook page. Does Facebook mean that publishers don’t need to have marketing departments anymore? You tell me.
  • Richard Nash has talked about this: Don’t neglect the fans. Don’t hold them in contempt like you do. What are you afraid of? That they won’t kiss your ass? They won’t. Become a fan yourself if you want to please them. Your smartest writers know this better than you do.
  • Don’t inflate announced print runs. Ha…ha…ha. I meant that as a joke.
  • Don’t encourage your reps to read galleys that you won’t distribute to your accounts. I don’t want to hear that my rep has read a galley that he can’t get for me. I also don’t want to hear that he had dinner with a writer that I wasn’t invited to meet or that he went to a great movie tie-in screening that I wasn’t given a ticket for. The bigger the house, the more they do this.
  • Don’t get afraid if writers decide to talk to their fans and vice versa. No harm will come from this. Fans are good, not something you have to stamp out at all costs.
  • As for Jonathan and dogs…I don’t know what’s going on there with his no dogs on the cover. But here’s my cover rule: avoid dark covers, they usually don’t work. They tend to turn off the casual bookstore browser. I am greatly looking forward to seeing the cover of West of Here.