Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye (ChiZine Publications) is a contemporary version of Animal Farm amped up on bitterness, future technology and sad realizations that things are not going to end well. Our unnamed narrator is forced into situations beyond his control, a reluctant hero in search of his mother, an angry youth who has little love left for his father, a boy not quite ready to be a man.

As a teen, he runs off to work at Farm, thinking he is helping his mother. Years later when his paychecks bounce back to him, her account closed, he fears the worst. An opportunity to escape presents itself, and he flees Farm, only to run into his father, who has set him up to be the next mayor of City—or perhaps just a patsy waiting for the fall.


Dear Lobbyist Bowles,

I recently read about the exciting new venture your organization is embarking on and am very interested in the Social Media position you are no doubt preparing to establish. Having just graduated from the number one party school in the entire southwest, I am eager for an opportunity to get my foot in the door and begin my life in the workforce. Making that happen with a well-established movement such as yours would be a bonus. (Everyone wants some job security these days, am I right?)

I know there was a lot of shit going on in heaven this past weekend, what with Jesus busy preparing the Papa Hem suite for Christopher Hitchens while simultaneously arranging for Kim Jong-il’s ferry ride to hell. But the good lord totally dropped the ball on number one fan Tim Tebow, who suffered a streak-ending loss to the New England Patriots.

Full disclosure: I would bang Tim Tebow with the intensity of a thousand suns. This amuses me because I find him absurd in just about every facet of his life, from his fervent religious belief to his home schooling to his colluding with pro life organizations. But that didn’t stop me from imagining what it might be like to go on a date with him.


My Date with Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow would pick me up in his maroon Ford F-150 exactly five minutes before he was due. He would saunter up to my door in pressed blue jeans and a polo shirt. He’d have on some kind of mirrored sunglasses.

Tim Tebow would wear Cool Water or something similar, because Drakkar Noir sounds foreign and (he thinks) only gays wear Calvin Klein. He’d probably use too much gel in his hair, but I would overlook this because holy shit, he’s Tim Tebow.

He’d take me to a steak house and ask if I was Jewish. He would sigh with relief when I said no, but would tighten up again (albeit to lesser degree) when I informed him I was Greek.

“Aren’t Catholics, like, you know,” he’d gesture at the side of his head with his finger, “weird?”

“Oh, I’m not Catholic anymore, I’m an athei–,” I’d stutter, remembering that atheism and Tim Tebow go together like Israel and Palestine.  Then, recovering:  “I’m kind of between religions right now.”

“Well, Jesus is great,” he’d tell me, reaching across the table for my hand.

Tim Tebow would talk exclusively about football and Jesus, the topics almost interchangeable. I’d nod politely while wondering what he’d look like naked and covered in blood. (Oh shit, did I just think that? Regroup, Stacie, regroup.)

“So…” I’d say, wiping my hand over the menu. “Appetizers?”

“I can’t eat shrimp,” he’d whisper across the table. He’d then cite the corresponding biblical passage forbidding him from doing so.

We’d order the same cut of steak. I’d try to tame the typical vacuum-like configuration my mouth takes on at steak houses. He would tell me about the time he circumcised a bunch of boys in the Philippines just as I was excising a piece of gristle from my otherwise glorious cut of beef. My hands would freeze in place as I rolled my eyes up to him slowly.

“Say what now?”

He’d explain that during his stay in the Philippines the ministry his father worked for decided that the best thing for these impoverished boys would be to take knives to their peckers in the name of the lord. I’d drink some water to keep from gasping.

“Totally, totally legit,” he’d assure me.

At the end of the night I would try to pressure Tim Tebow into doing it in the cab of his F-150. He’d look uncomfortable and decline my offer.  “Come on,” I’d groan.  “Jesus doesn’t care.”

But Tebow would hold firm, removing my prying hand from his thigh and placing it gently back in my lap. He’d then invite me to bible study the following week, referring to my complete lack of morals as “worrisome.”

“Jesus is my go-to guy,” he’d explain, citing his many championships and awards, all of them won with the kind assistance of the son of god. I’d mention offhand that I always took Jesus to be a Patriots fan. Tebow’s normally placid face would then twist into a mild sneer. He’d lean across my body to open my door and suggest that we call it night.

“What about bible study?” I’d cry out as he sped away.   And then, pathetically:  “I’m a sinner!  Let’s bone!”

The rest of the night would be spent in an increasing state of drunkenness, crank-calling Tim Tebow’s cell phone, pretending to be the holy spirit. After about three tries, he’d catch on and block my number.  And that would be the end of it.   For the rest of eternity, we would never speak to each other again.


[Transcript from an interview exclusive to The Nervous Breakdown.]

Milton: Since Halloween was last night, and October 31st is his birthday, I am here talking with Satan, on Skype, from his holiday villa Pandaemonium deep in the depths of Hell. Satan, let me first wish you a Happy Birthday!

Satan: Gee-wiz, thanks, John. So kind of you to call. I am touched, really, I am. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you. And may I say you look marvelous for a 400-year-old? What is your secret? Who is your surgeon? You could pass for a teenager. It must be the poetry—Paradise Regained.

Please explain what just happened.

If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. But here’s a few things I just saw (in order of importance): a fist, Tic Tacs, a cup, a video camera, a real old dude and the safe word was “taffy”.


What is your earliest memory?

Wait, you mean, in forever? It was probably getting off a plane at Kennedy with throngs of women welcoming my arrival in America. Later that night I played on Ed Sullivan. Whatever, I was four.


If you weren’t a dildo polisher, what other profession would you choose?

I’d prefer being somebody that soiled dildos. If I never polish another dildo…..well, it’ll be a happy day.

Classified Ad — Week One

FOR SALE: Old safe on wheels. Locked but no combination. Leaving the country and can’t take it with me. Buyer owns whatever is inside. Could be a pile of diamonds or could be nothing. Maybe gold bars. Sorry, no refunds. $10,000. Call Rob X3324.

JC: Jim Othmer’s first novel, The Futurist, found its way to my pile of books-to-be-read several years ago courtesy of JR, who was walking around the office raving about it. That ambitious satire, centered around Yates, the man who sells his idea of the future, regardless of the consequences, nails the materialism that immerses us all.

His new novel, Holy Water is the story of Henry Tuhoe, miserable germaphobic cog in the multinational machine. Henry uses his trusty iPod to tune in the soundtrack to his life — the perfect song, or if necessary, playlist, for every situation. It helps to make the best of his mindless job as a product manager for deodorants and his increasingly insane wife,  which are slowly sucking the life out of him.

Othmer does a great job in the section showing how Henry and Rachel got to where they are: starting out a happy, upwardly mobile Manhattan couple, socializing and working in the city, handsomely rewarded for it. On a whim, based on a trip to the suburbs, they decide that their time in the city has come to an end — that they should move to Long Island and start a family. The smug wink-and-nod cynicism and their unraveling is reminiscent of Revolutionary Road, but, you know, really funny, including an excruciating, more-than-you-want-to-know account of vasectomies. A lot more.

But on this particular day, Tehoe’s got bigger problems. His boss gives him the option: either take a transfer to the third world wonderland Galado to open a call center for a bottled water company or you’re fired. Rachel unhinges herself and he heads for the verdant mountains of Galado.

I’ll leave the plot summary there. Othmer’s novel is populated by strange and twisted characters, some of whom seem to have fallen from the outtakes of a Tom Robbins novel. His wit and satirist’s touch echo both Will Self and George Saunders, especially Saunder’s repeated themes of the absurdity of consumerism.

Holy Water is fine book: funny, smart and strangely hopeful for revolution. Highly recommended.

For starters, someone must be dead.  That’s the golden rule to remember here.  And if that someone is mom, you’ve got a hit on your hands.  Nanny McPhee.  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Cinderella.  Annie.  Harry Potter.  Jumanji.  Beauty and the Beast.  The Game Plan.  Nim’s Island.  Bambi.  Snow White.  Fly Away Home. Hannah Montana. What do they all have in common?  That’s right.  A musical score.  Oh, and a dead mom.

Fill your screenplay with adorable creatures.  Animated, not animated – doesn’t matter.  Maybe they talk.  Maybe not.  Just have them.  But no cats.

And for the love of all things Jiminy Cricket do not kill off your adorable creature!  We’ve come a long way since Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller. Those films are relics of a bygone era.  We just don’t kill off animals anymore.  It’s upsetting.  No one likes to see that.

The only exception would be, of course, if your adorable little creature is a mom.  Then you can kill off your adorable creature.  Think Finding Nemo. Think carnage in the opening sequence.  Imagine those teary-eyed little children watching from between their wee little hands squashing their little faces at the heart-smashing tragedy of it all.  Now imagine their gazes drifting over to their mothers beside them as they think, “Wait a second.  You mean … I could lose you?  Forever and ever?  Out of the blue?  All of the sudden?  Nooooo!”  You’ve just made fans for life.

All right, all right.  If you must have a cat, the cat can be the villain or the companion of a villain.  But that’s it.  No strutting around looking cute.  Villainy only.

Repeat after me: flatulence is always funny.  Always.  It doesn’t even need a set-up.  That’s the beauty of it!  And your children’s movie must have it.  Or belching.  Please, though, do not involve the mom in the flatulence or belching because mom is not here to be funny.  Are you saying you think death is funny?

Dead within fifteen minutes of the opening credits, recently dead, long dead, doesn’t matter as long as you remember that one or both parents must go.  We can’t have our lead characters running around under the protective supervision of a couple of doting parents without even an inkling that said parents could be horrifically ripped from their lives at any given moment.  Trust me.  The people who want to see that kind of thing don’t go to the movies.  They’re too busy holed up at home knitting and playing Jenga and watching “Little House on the Prairie” marathons.

So, let’s say that despite everything you’ve learned here you still insist on including a mom in your children’s movie.  Fine, but I would advise you under such circumstances to make sure that only mom’s legs are visible.  As in Toy Story.  Possibly hands, if need be.  Might I suggest she be a faint voice from afar, like the humming of a refrigerator in the kitchen.  Three houses down.  Listen, I’m warning you.  If your mom has more presence than the wallpaper, you can forget about developing any conflicts because she can solve a problem faster than you can say “half pint.”  Even better, have mom abandon the central character early on, a la Meet the Robinsons or Enchanted, and then go away forever.  As if she were dead.

And I will make this final allowance for you:  if you’d like to make it seem like your adorable creature is dead for at least five minutes, maybe ten, this would be acceptable.  Like in Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Over the Hedge, or G-Force.  Bring your young audience to the brink of tears and then reassure them by showing them the creature was just playing dead.  Make them laugh about it, even.  This is a good time for that fart joke.  Let them know everything is just fine.  Unless we’re talking about mom.  Mom is dead, and they’re just going to have to deal with it.

Originally published by Press Media Group and appeared in the 24 February 2010 issue of The Lynchburg Ledger newspaper and subsequent issues. Photo by Amber S. Clark.

Photo by Amber S. Clark

Read the reviewPretend this is either an episode of Charlie Rose or a New Yorker podcast and I am a bewhiskered Deborah Treisman with an exorbitant amount of testosterone. For those of you just joining us, I am talking with New York based novelist, Greg Olear, author of the murder mystery/social satire Totally Killer (Harper, 2009). And by talking, I mean I e-mailed Mr. Olear and he didn’t report me to the FBI for stalking.

Originally printed by Press Media Group and appeared in the 17 February 2010 issue of The Lynchburg Ledger newspaper.

Apart from William Melvin Kelley’s 1967 black comedy dem, I have never read a book so swiftly in my born day as Totally Killer by Greg Olear (Harper, 2009). I’ll be frank—though I usually just go by Jeff, Jeffro, or Jeffrey, depending on how well you know me—you don’t need to read any further than the next line to know my true feelings regarding this novel: it is absolutely amazing. Stop reading this column right now and high tail it to Barnes & Noble or log on to Amazon.com and snag a copy.

WASHINGTON – Toyota to recall 270,000 Priuses after reports of malfunctioning brakes. Spokesman for the company cites green initiative.

“It is our belief at Toyota that brake dust and brake fluid are harmful to the environment. As 21st century innovators and leaders in green vehicular technology, we took the initiative and eradicated these two harmful agents from spoiling our beloved Mother Earth and killing innocent dolphins.”

Pressured with questions regarding Toyota’s other recall, the company spokesman offered his take on the matter saying, “You say tomato. I say tomahto. My friends, the press–these accelerators are not jammed. They are simply locked. Jammed and locked are two wholly different issues. By coupling locked accelerators with malfunctioning brakes, we, at Toyota, are preserving our planet. When an accelerator locks and you have no brakes and you’re going down a mountainside at 80 MPH, everyone, and I mean everyone, knows that you put the gear shift in Neutral. And what does Neutral do? It saves gasoline. Saved gasoline saves planets. Toyota’s Green Initiative. Any more questions?”

Click to watch video of Crash Test Dummies performing Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.

Elizabeth, in one sense your book, Raising The Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation is a satire, since it sort of skewers the genre of parenting books.  Yet, the book actually has a lot of really great parenting tips.  How on earth did you strike such a balance?  Are you some kind of sick genius?

Oh, you are so sweet.  I think this book came from such a real place, that it was actually very easy to find that balance.  My number one goal with the book was to entertain people with funny stories about my family, and my youth growing up Catholic in Las Vegas, (the same stories that people have been loving for years in my personal life) and to disguise the whole thing as a twisted parenting guide.  As the process went along I found that I actually had a lot of good advice for people.   I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me since I have the best parents in the world, in a lot of ways this book is a love letter to them.

Do you feel weird about using real people from your life in your stories?  Do you think this will come back to haunt you?

Let’s just say, If I were to do this again, I would have done more than just change the names of certain people, I would have “changed distinguishing characteristics” –which is a phrase I see a lot of in memoirs, but did not notice before I set out to write this book. I’m sure the phrase has been around forever, I just never thought about it, and always glanced over disclaimers at the start of books.  But, now I see that and think, “shit, I should have done a little more of that changing distinguishing characteristics business!”  I also see “some characters have been combined for the purposes of story-telling.”  I really wish I had thought of that.  Even if it weren’t true, I wish it said that at the beginning of my book.  That way, someone could reason, “Oh, this character must be me combined with some asshole.” At times I do feel a twinge of bad conscience (to use my cousin Jim’s favorite phrase…see, there I go again, not appropriately shielding people’s identities!)

Is it just my imagination, or would this book make an amazing Christmas gift, stocking stuffer, or Hanukkah gift?

Great minds think alike, yes it totally would!

Since this is part memoir, part instructional satire, do readers sometimes confuse the first person narrative stuff with the fictional examples and think that you have a bunch of relatives even sicker than some of the real ones?

Yes!  My own family has been grilling me about different parts, “Who is cousin Donny?  Who is that supposed to be?”  I have to explain that cousin Donny is totally made up, as are other examples in the faux instructional sections.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some real things weaved into those sections as well, but I prefer to keep people guessing as to which are which.

You’ve mostly made a living writing comedy pilots for television, how is writing a book different?

Well, there’s a lot less “white on the page” when writing a book, so it was a much more intimidating process in the beginning.  Screenplays and television scripts aren’t meant to be read, I mean, they are, but that’s not the final destination, so you don’t feel as obsessed over every single word of description as you do when writing a book.  (Or, I should say, “I” since I am not speaking for every other human who has written a book and a script, OR AM I? Whatever, you get the idea.)

Is there talk of turning this book into a television series?

Yes, there has been talk, but right now it is just talk.  Hopefully one day soon my dream of seeing a television version of my mother will be realized.  She really is such an amazing, hilarious, strong character, and I believe that America is ready for her to be the center of a sitcom!  They are clamoring for it!  The only thing even close to my mother on television was Carmella Soprano.  Growing up, my mother was kind of like Carmella Soprano, but without the guns hidden in the foyer, and with a much nicer husband.  Don’t even get me started on the endless hilarity that is my father.  I will not stop until there is a show that revolves around characters based on my parents.  America, you can thank me later.

Wow, those are some pretty big proclamations, “America is ready…” “America, you can thank me later.” Don’t you worry that the satire impaired will not recognize the over-the-top comedic boastfulness inherent in those phrases and think you are a pompous jerk?

It’s funny you bring that up.  Did you know that 12 million Americans are satirically impaired?  But, together, we can do something to ease their burden.  Please visit my website to find out how you can help (Jog-a-thon information to follow).

Thank you so much, Elizabeth, you have been a delight!

No, you have!

A light bulb dangles in a Northridge, California motel room. Streetlights glow through cracks in the blinds. Trembling hands dump a bottle of Bacardi 151 on the head of a shirtless Philip Seymour Hoffman. Said hands strike a match. Enter the flames. The screams.

Like most aspiring authors, I’ve read a lot of interviews with famous writers. One of the things they continually bring up is the following advice: focus on the work, and not on whether you’re going to become famous. The obvious but never-discussed subtext of this advice is that aspiring authors spend a lot of time focusing on becoming famous. I’m not going to argue with this.

So I’ve made a list:


I want to become famous.


I want to be the youngest writer ever to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine.


I want to be invited to the White House and, after signing the President’s First Edition copy of my novel, be asked to curate a private presidential reading list.


I want Harper’s to dedicate an entire issue to publishing a 45,000-word novella they commission from me which addresses themes of guilt, potlatch economies, and “colonialism of the mind.”


I want to have young, aspiring authors send me letters of devotion charged with unintentional sexual undercurrents, and to respond with quick little notes full of dramatic, condescending statements such as, “If you can do anything other than write, and retain your sanity, do it.”


I want to investigate every single editor and agent who has ever rejected my work, find out exactly what I could say to make them feel terrible about themselves, say those things via private, third-party phone calls, and then parade around town with my critically acclaimed book, publicly denouncing them by name.


I want U2 to give me VIP tickets to their next world tour, and have Bono dedicate “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” to me, but then, when he’s singing the chorus, sing instead “I finally HAVE found what I’m looking for,” while holding up a copy of my novel, battered and dog-eared from being read aloud in their private tour jet countless times to The Edge.


I want to receive a phone call in the middle of the night from Thomas Pynchon, who will say that my book changed his life, and offer to meet me somewhere publically for a photo so he’ll have visual proof that I signed his copy, to which he’ll return again and again in his senescence when he can no longer trust his memory, each time reliving the moment as though it just happened.


I want George Lucas to make my book into a film, completely botch the job, and then hold a press conference at which he publically apologizes to me, my readership, and to the Written Word itself, then offers to recall every copy of the film from theaters, and announces that he’ll be surrendering all creative control of the remake, instead putting every resource of LucasFilm toward a trilogy of the novel directed by, Wong Kar Wai, Werner Herzog, and Spike Jonze, respectively.


I want Us Weekly to publish a montage of pictures featuring me: 1) buying grapefruit at Whole Foods, 2) walking along the west side of Central Park on the way to a Style Through the Century So Far exhibit at the Guggenheim, laughing at something Jennifer Anniston is whispering in my ear while Lady Gaga wears an expression of mock-disgust, 3) tripping over paparazzi outside of Tom Robbins-owned underground speakeasy bar in the Lower East Side, while Tom Robbins himself passes me a joint and discretely mouths the words “Maui Waui” into a half-eaten bran muffin, and 4) holding up the last issue of Us Weekly with my face on the cover and giving a sincere thumbs-up, all under the headline, “Authors: they’re just like us!”


I want to spend years after my most popular, well-received novel working reclusively on something I won’t describe and will only refer to as “the big book,” which when published will be so far removed from expectations it will be considered offensive, even blasphemous, and will prompt nationally choreographed book-burning events whereat defenders will rally against detractors, confrontations escalate into violent gang-wars, and the entire clash result in a temporary police-state that the UN will denounce, encouraging trade sanctions by the European Union. After watching in horror as our social systems collapse, I want to take to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and, with the use of an elaborate PowerPoint presentation, diffuse the turmoil by demonstrating that there is evidence in the text to support multiple perspectives, and that in fact it is simultaneously a work of classical patriotism and a book of protest. I’ll convince everyone to go back to their families and loved ones, but to not return to “business as usual,” rather to use this as an opportunity for personal reflection, social advancement, and spiritual enlightenment.


I want to dabble in genre fiction after I’ve accomplished everything I can with literary work, and to write the most outrageously cunning whodunit that people will spontaneously begin to both laugh and weep once the killer is revealed, and about which God, once I’ve passed away and ascended to the area in Heaven reserved for great writers, will take me aside, looking quite shaken, and say in a low whisper, “I didn’t see that one coming.”


Hey everyone, guess what?

I’ve got my period.