June 30, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Paul Fattaruso
Paul is the writer behind 2004's Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf (Soft Skull Press) (see our review). Recently, Akashic Books, under its Hotel St. George Press imprint, put out his new illustrated novella/prose poem Bicycle. Like the title infers, Bicycle honors the bicycle as everyday object and idol with micro-fiction pieces on every page, each reaching roughly two lines. I spoke to Fattaruso over the weekend with the hope that he would further illustrate what he was trying to do with this one.
Your last work, Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf, was a more traditional (in the words-on-pages-between-two-covers sense) novella. What made you decide to try something like Bicycle?
Bicycle actually started out as a medium-long poem, about 25 pages. I sent it by e-mail to a friend of mine, and he sent it back to me with comments. The computer I was using had some trouble opening the file, and when I finally got it open, the whole poem was in "strikethrough" font, except for the first two lines: "Do you prefer the machinery of the bicycle / or the softer machinery of a bird?" I wasn't sure whether it was a computer error or just a really harsh critique of the poem. It turned out to be a computer error, a ghost in the machine or something, but I went ahead and cut the whole poem and started over with just the two lines. After that, it just felt kind of inevitable to write it the way I did. I stared at those two lines and asked, "what now?" They told me what to do. It didn't feel like much of a decision.
In Bicycle, you celebrate the bicycle as both everyday item and idol. Where did the idea originate?
I didn't learn to ride a bike as a kid. I had a few misfired attempts, but just never got it. Then I got a bicycle as a wedding present. That inspired me to really finally learn how to ride. It was difficult and embarrassing. People on the other side of the street would point at me and laugh. But once I'd more or less figured it out, riding the bicycle became this magical thing for me. It was this eerily quiet, perfectly elegant form of motion and balance that I'd never experienced before. It was a revelation, and obviously I had to try to write about it. So I guess the book is sort of a memoir.
You worked with an artist this time around. What was that experience like? Did you commission the pages or was it a more symbiotic process?
The illustrations were all done after the book was written, so I had relatively little to do with it. I would see the drawings and cheer. Adam Thompson created a visual universe that I felt just fit the book perfectly, and I'm enduringly grateful for that.
What would you say was your biggest influence in creating this book?
Other than my bicycle? I think the book definitely owes a lot to Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." That's a poem that's lodged in me somewhere permanent. Also Joshua Beckman's Your Time Has Come. Also Robert Hass's Essential Haiku anthology.
What are you working on next?
I've recently finished a poem-cycle called Village Carved from an Elephant's Tusk. Years ago at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA I saw this tusk with a village carved into it, and the image haunted me and continues to haunt me, makes me wonder what our own village is carved from.
Next I'm working on a book about a man and his kite.
Books may be weird and old, but when the terrorists launch their EMF War against us (electro-magnetic frequency) and all electronic data is erased, isn't it comforting to know that you'll still be able to curl up with a book containing an essay entitled "How to Approach the Sensitive Question - Anal?"
Critics have become bemoaners. It seems that every week a new article comes out lamenting the state of criticism in field X, Y, or Z. The critics are bemoaning the state of their craft, bemoaning the state of contemporary culture, bemoaning the fate of the world. A few centuries ago the intellectual world trembled at the steps of Samuel Johnson. More recently, careers were ended by a few words from Oscar Wilde or Walter Lippman. A generation of Americans checked in with H.L. Mencken on a daily basis to figure out what they thought about any given subject. Most of these figures were angry and disdainful to some degree or other. But they were not bemoaners. They stood confidently atop the world and proclaimed.
NYRB is reissuing George Rippey Stewart's Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States, and Slate has an appreciation. From Names on the Land:
"The deepest poetry of a name and its first glory lie, not in liquid sounds, but in all that shines through that name—the hope or terror, or passion or wit, of those who named it. The second glory of a name, as with Marathon or Valley Forge, springs later from the deeds done there."
Violet Blue, who should achieve sainthood for her book The Ultimate Guide to Cunnilingus, has been removed entirely from the Boing Boing archive. Bookslut contributor Joanne McNeil explains that this is not the first Boing Boing deletion.
June 27, 2008
“Tell me about your sister,” the little boy said. “Was she a witch?”
“Maybe,” the man said.
The little boy laughed excitedly, and the man leaned back and puffed at his cigar. “Once upon a time,” he began, “I had a little sister, just like yours.” The little boy looked up at the man, nodding at every word. “My little sister,” the man went on, “was so pretty and so nice that I loved her more than anything else in the world. So shall I tell you what I did?”
The little boy nodded more vehemently, and the mother lifted her eyes from her book and smiled, listening.
“I bought her a rocking-horse and a doll and a million lollipops,” the man said, “and then I took her and I put my hands around her neck and I pinched her and I pinched her until she was dead.”
Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is 60 years old. (Thanks to Joanne for the heads up.) In celebration, find yourself a copy of The Lottery and Other Stories and read one of my favorite short stories ever, "Witch." (Also, Jonathan Lethem's appreciation here.)
Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) has posted the strip she wrote for Entertainment Weekly about all those authors you're supposed to read.
Authors bless me, for I have sinned. It's been three months since my last novel, and I didn't even finish that one.
June 26, 2008
At Harriet, Lucia Perillo has kicked started a conversation about one of my favorite topics: Why is contemporary poetry so exclusively left-wing, especially with regard to the war? In particular, don't miss Annie Finch's thoughtful intervention. (I'll grant that Perillo poses the issue badly at first, implying there aren't many poets who write about war besides Homer. But I've been looking for contemporary pro-war poems for a year now, and have gotten . . . absolutely nothing. Well, not nothing: The WSJ ran this largely embarrassing collection of poems in 2003. (And even many of those poems were from the early- to mid-nineties.)
What makes this an interesting question is--as several of Perillo's commenters have noted--is that it suggests a kind of isolation or even irrelevance among poets. Not so much because the war is secretly awesome, but because if poetry still spoke centrally to the lives of most people, then those agitating for war would have drummed up some serviceable pro-war verse. (I can think of pro-war novels, tv shows, and movies . . . . but no poetry. That probably means something--and I can't imagine that it's an unalloyed good.)
Also, see this interview with James Winn about his new book, The Poetry of War: Like many people in my generation, my most immediate experience with war was the war in Vietnam. Although I was lucky enough not to go there, I did get drafted in 1968 and found my time in the Army pointless and frustrating. So it was instructive to read poems by soldiers who genuinely believed in the rightness of the wars they were fighting. I remain deeply skeptical of war as a means of bringing about change, but I respect the determination and heroism of soldier-poets from many eras, and I have tried, in my book, to honor their memory.
Speaking of Lucia Perillo, she's on this list of 5 poets who also write excellent essays, by Sandra Beasley.
William Jay Smith is much less sanguine about the prose of poets in this CPR interview: The present state of criticism is just as bad as that of poetry since, of course, the two go together, linked inextricably.
From YouTube: Hayden Carruth on the backstory of "Emergency Haying."
For those memoirists out there, in case your family ever questions your claims of having been set on fire, abducted by aliens, or smoking crack during family dinners, Dave Pelzer has an excuse you can borrow: just say your perfectly mentally sound family member is "semi-retarded."
Can you imagine any serious film reviewer refusing to watch anything other than the major Hollywood blockbusters?
David Barnett investigates the lack of respect book critics show to independent and micro publishers.
Opium Magazine has impressed me with its wit ever since I started to frequent the website, oh, maybe two days ago. (That might not sound too impressive, but I give up on something if it's not clever enough in ten to fifteen minutes.) Thanks to their editorial team, I can now refer to myself as a genius AND have an answer when somebody asks me to "prove it" as their newsletter is addressed specifically to me and my MENSA colleagues. You can't read excerpts from the magazine online (unless you pay for PDF version, and I'm an old fashioned kind of girl) but you can order the print version from their website.
While you wait for the mail fairy to drop it in your mailbox, though, you can entertain yourself with the flash fiction pieces submitted that come with an estimated reading time for your convenience. In just seven minutes you can read five pieces: one by Village Voice editor Angela Ashman, one about the cruelty of childhood love, one that leaves much to be explained (in the best way possible), and one with the deliciously macabre title of The My Little Pony Graveyard. The last piece I recommend begins sounding familiar (read: boring, been-there-done-that) but ends on a note so aching I think I may wake up with tears on my pillow tomorrow. This one is Meadow by K.A. Brennan.
Okay, so it's really seven minutes and ONE second, but I have faith in you, dear reader. You can slice one second off your time.
Opium also hosts the Literary Death Match, a bi-coastal rapid-reading extravaganza. It sounds like a rollicking good time, so if you happen to be in New York City this coming Wednesday, you really ought to check it out. Seems like they also know the importance of two things I love dearly: booze and "intangibles."
Cognitive scientists claim you can’t dream of a face you’ve never seen. Well, I can’t read a room I haven’t inhabited.
June 25, 2008
For my birthday, you can order me a copy of Lust & Cashmere by A. E. Simns, newly released by Green Lantern Press. It combines all three of my favorite things: choose your own adventure stories, silk screening, and beautiful sweaters. Lust is okay, too. Caroline Picard, Director of Green Lantern, talks about the book’s creation:
The design of the book:
Jason Bacasa designed the layout of the book. He does the layout for all of the Green Lantern publications. I know he was really interested in using the original choose your own adventure books as a launching platform for the design. At the same time, because there are different forms of fiction in the book, he had to modify that source material. The design reflects the structure of the book; it begins with a short story -- what is in some way the real meat of the text, as it provides the context for the rest -- laying the groundwork for the "game" of the choose your own adventure in part two. To that end, Jason didn't want to make it exactly like a choose your own adventure (i.e. with bold numbers in the upper right hand corner) but to offer enough of a feel so that as the reader began to digest the first part, or "Introduction," the reader would recall, even vaguely, the anticipation of page turning and choice: a shadow of childhood.
Also, there is the constant motif of the sweater emblem -- what always reminds me of a generic, Ikea drawing of a sweater. The repetition of the motif is like a grounding element: the thing that keeps everything focused. In some way, this book is trying to transform a banal object, the sweater, into a fetishized object; something symbolic that might twist a picture to mean something different, something sexualized. In the writing, the sweater becomes a kind of code. Visually, it anchors that code, keeping it in the fore of the readers' mind.
Part two, the choose your own adventure, also features a "maze." There is a place where the You character (in this case of ambiguous and duplicitous gender) is running through the woods; (s)he is only given so many choices, and many of those choices repeat themselves, so that a reader would find that they are constantly returning to the same place over and over again. As in a dream, it's a way of recreating a claustrophobic feeling. Something hopefully reinforced by the familiarity of the format.
Another secret: there are "islands" in the choose your own adventure that you can't get to by following page numbers. This is intended to catch the people who read straight through, as opposed to those (like me) who always followed the number trail. People like me would suffer in ignorance.
Part three is the "play": wherein a group of characters re-tell the story of the sweater. Again, the design had to be something that could accommodate these different forms. In this case, providing a list of characters, and their idiosyncratic, non-linear dialogue. Here the point of view reverses, and the play creates a room in which the sweater-lover is talked about collectively.
This book is the result of an extensive collaboration. The book itself was written by a group of people, each responding to a story told in a rumor. In a way it's an experiment to see what happens when you take the game of telephone seriously. The first part is the result of people writing their respective versions down (It took some effort to edit this stuff into one cohesive object, but still...); the second part a game constructed around the rumor. The third part, a transcript of the authors before a wedding; it's a kind of derogatory conversation that might have taken place after the rumor was common knowledge.
The design is also that way: it is the work of many hands. Each participant is granted the freedom to respond as they see fit. So for instance, Jason made the design. We went back and forth a few times with small things, but basically it's his magic. Alana Bailey made the covers, and the little posters that insert into the back of the first 100. Again, she was granted free reign. Kellie Porter made the sweater, as her contribution. The Green Lantern staff added the errata/library cards.
Doing it this way seems particularly fitting for this book because it is like a social experiment. And what's additionally exciting is that it's also a way to get people to talk about, and make work about, a relatively embarrassing, if not taboo, lust.
As I said, these were completed by Kellie Porter of Cape Cod. When we started working on this project, we -- her husband Ben and Kellie and I -- were all talking about the choose your own adventure part. Kellie was in the middle of a master's program at University of Chicago and she had a number of insights into the book, i.e. how it reflected on gender issues; how the choose your own adventure motif seemed post-modern, and reflected web-based flash fiction; she had other things to say too, ideas that started to turn the book from a joke to something a little more serious. So I asked her write an introduction.
At first she agreed, but then, a few months later, she asked if, instead, she could knit 100 miniature sweaters, as a kind of companion to the book. In my mind, the sweaters are a better introduction than any text might have been. It also makes the book immediately tactile.
The illustrations are original drawings, in some cases ripped off of choose your own adventure drawings, and other sources (the Green Devil drawing, for instance, was copied from an old Chinese watercolor), in other cases, the drawings are modified copies of other things. Some of them are entirely original. (i.e. the one with the guy and the snorkel pointing at the moon, pants around his legs). I made these a few years ago, because it seemed like you couldn't have a choose your own adventure book without choose your own adventure drawings. It's also a way to orient yourself in the book -- i.e. there is a drawing of Shenley park.
Silk screened covers:
These were made by Alana Bailey. Every year, the Green Lantern asks a screen-printer to make original covers (in editions of 500) for our two major books. (We publish smaller runs of other things in addition, but these do not have the silk screened covers.) Last year Mat Daly did the covers, and this year Alana Bailey did. In this case, Alana was interested in making vagina covers -- so the cover of the book is a kind of interwoven-rope-labia pattern in yellow and burnt red. It looks a little like wallpaper. Plus the fancy cursive-text in white, that looks a little like it's hiding within the wallpaper. Perfectly shy.
The mini-posters on the inside are pink and maroon printed on off-white paper, and across the page it looks like the abstract footprint of a vagina -- it's been pretty fun to show the posters to people and then point out, after a few minutes that they are little vaginas, and then the people giggle and blush.But yes, the covers were totally up to her. We've always had that caveat, i.e. that the author(s), once they agree to work with us, have to let the print makers do their fancy work. Once you trust some one's artistic integrity, I think it's important to stay out of the way, otherwise you run the risk of impeding their vision. And, I feel like I ask people to do things who would do them better than I; so presumably their inspiration is not something I share.
Chicago press critic Steve Rhodes says Sun-Times advertising columnist Lewis Lazare shouldn't be complaining about the Internet dumbing down America while his paper is running a "Which Team's Fans Are Hotter?" contest.
Rebellion and survival may often be the same act. Particularly when attempting to maintain your identity. And in a time where intrusion into who you are is the norm, whether this is CCTV, Facebook profiles, a mobile phone and its twenty four hour connection, a rejection of modernity is one way of defining the line of self more clearly. And as 'self' is not only you, but the people around you, your environment, vanishing can be refuge from the bombardment of living – especially for a globally famous rock star scrutinised by press and fans.
"Confinement" by Tony Hoagland.
Library patrons can now renew and reserve books from their home computers and download audio books and digital music, thanks to an $11 million technology expansion almost entirely paid for by largesse generated by the Chicago Skyway lease.
Even though the title of the interview -- "Global Warming, Female Utopias and Gender Roles" -- sounds like a conference panel discussion during which you would end up drawing on your sneakers with your ball point pen to keep yourself awake, Sarah Hall and Daughters of the North are always interesting. So you'll have to come up with a different excuse for why you have "I Heart Brian Eno" written over and over again on your instep.
"Living in New York was harder than living in the war. I was poor, I was struggling and I had no communication with my parents. I didn't know if they were alive or not. And I was alone."
Since then, we can now confirm that Hage was indeed getting drunk directly after winning the world's richest literary prize.
Drinking most probably occurred sometime around the delivery of the new Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. Worth £5,000, it's a British prize for the Genre That Dare Not Speak Its Name. The ultimate winner, author Lisa Jewell, for her novel 31 Dream Street, prefers the term "popular women's fiction", and said:
"The award is definitely something the genre needs, and more importantly is something the reader needs. People say 'chick lit' and what they mean is 'crap'."
Needs? Steady on, love. We need oxygen and glucose and bedsheets of a reasonable thread count and Penguin Modern Classic editions. Do we really need another sticker on the cover of a pastel trade paperback?
Over in the bursting at the seams Petty Literary Feuds Dept., it's handbags at twenty paces over at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
Four-time national book awards judge Gordon McLauchlan says that in the United Kingdom, United States or Australia, "the judges would now be required to explain themselves and debate eccentric decisions, but that is not the New Zealand way. They have a bureaucrat stonewall on their behalf."
Warning: parochial bitchiness and pomposity can lead to reader strain from protracted eyeball rolling.
June 24, 2008
Today's self-promotional round-up: I'm participating in NPR's new "Books We Like" feature, and you can read my review of Sarah Hall's Daughters of the North, along with an excerpt from the book, on their website.
My column about Kevin Myers's Watching the Door: Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast is up at the Smart Set.
One Republican, a man named Frankie Cards who gaelicized his name into Proinsias Mac Airt, was a Catholic bachelor, twisted into a worshiper of violence. “In a sane society this lunatic muttering morbidly into a few cooling cinders would not have been taken as anything other than a candidate for special care: in the asylum of Northern Ireland he was being hailed as a prophet.”
And, finally, my thoughts on the shame of summer reading, as part of this National Post article:
If you're carrying Tolstoy onto the sand with you, you're probably doing your vacation wrong anyway.
I’ve been a freelance writer for a year now and I’m getting a little tired of it. It’s isolating and pitching is a roller coaster of YAY they accepted it and BOO they're only paying that much and YAY I’ll have another byline and BOO now I have to write something. My goal is, by August, to have an office. With a few people who share it. And I will not work for them, but rather with them and we’ll maybe have a water cooler and we can chat around it. The idea of having others to speak with over the course of a week gives me sort of a blissed-out giddy feeling.
I think, too, I’d like an office crush. You know, a guy who wears a suit and smiles at me when I walk by. A guy that I can daydream about and quickly click my computer screen away from the various blogs I surf, to the Agent Provocateur website when he walks by -- "What? I was just doing some project management.”
Of course, I know office life is not like this. I know it’s a grind, which is why I have a firm knowledge that I will never, not ever, hold an office job again. But I like the fantasy of it. I like the idea of guys in suits. Okay, I like guys in suits, plain and simple.
So, you’d think Open for Business: Tales of Office Sex, an erotica anthology edited by Alison Tyler, would suit me just fine. But, oddly, it does not. The stories are bizarrely redundant. Several refer to a woman’s honey, being impaled or skewered on various cocks, and it seems like every single boss wants to give or receive anal sex. I guess most of us have had the same thought about our bosses: he or she doesn’t even deserve a reach around.
The constant power struggles that permeate one story are all too often played out in the story before, but with the roles are reversed. There is a lot of spanking. A lot of spanking. A lot of asses. Odd.
The stories on their own are all very sexy, but I guess, when put together, the commonality becomes distracting and, eventually, comical.
And the sex is very dirty. Very, very dirty. The threesome in the story “Late for Work” by Shelly Jansen is delicious.
But for today’s Sticky Pages, we’ll look at “How to Fuck Your Boss” by Elizabeth Young. It’s an anal scene with the boss, because, I guess, everyone’s doing it.
Page 31, Open for Business.
After bending him over the desk, I peer into the asshole of my boss, wondering, and not for the first time, whether my obvious predilection for self-destruction is more a fetish than a character flaw. There is a trace of the ridiculous in all of this, and by the time I’m moistening the tip of my finger, I am not at all surprised that our working relationship has crossed the line. After all, what’s the use of screwing your boss up the ass if not for the chance to ruin your career? So here I am, aimed for insertion, staring at his business-casual khakis puddling around his ankles and wondering if I could still show some grace and walk out the office door, when he pushes himself back toward me.
Well, here we go.
His ass is as I expected it -- shiny and buffed, clean with not a trace of hair left in the crack -- and I run my finger up and down it, feeling the silky smoothness. My tongue darts out of my mouth on instinct. As I press a finger against his opening, he puckers up and I slide into him, the tip of my finger entering him slowly, getting him used to me and the rhythm of being fucked.
He takes to it the way all thirty-something middle managers do. Easy.
As I typed that, all I could think is, my imagination must be dead because I can’t see myself wanting to do that to any boss I’ve ever had. I hope all of you had better luck with that scene and this book than I did.
Katie James was too hungover to care that every chapter seemed to start in much the same way. She remembered the boy's death that had sent her spiralling from Pulitzer prize-winning journalist to washed-up alcoholic on the obituaries page. A tragedy was always a good substitute for depth of character, she thought, as she looked out of her Scottish hotel window.
The Times on books that don't survive their age.
They seem to be books that fitted in far too comfortably with the sensibilities of a certain chattering-class elite when they were published. Remove a work of fiction from the milieu in which it was written and you remove some of its purpose and point, of course; however, with Hesse, Powell and Fowles, as with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you seem to lose all the purpose and point. Everything simply evaporates.
The God of literary magazines hath smiled down on me this week by bringing Tin House Volume 9, Number 3 into my life. The editor's note states that this issue focuses on "people and characters who make their home on the margins," a place I like to visit as frequently as possible (I'm currently applying for permanent citizenship), so I knew right away I had found a map to little peripheral lanes down which I had never traveled. Exactly what did I encounter there? A lesbian in a nursing home who harbors both resentment and love for the paramour of her past, a father and daughter who have lived secretly in the woods for years, an eccentric artist who enjoys using terms of endearment and writing poems to prostitutes, a commune full of cross dressing farm boys and a man with an unnatural attachment to his velvet portrait of Jim Morrison. I've also added four books to my reading list and am actually looking forward to exploring the existential ramifications of eating a cockroach. When visiting the margins, aka "the edge" (and not the one affiliated with Clear Channel but the one "perceived to make someone nervous," as brilliantly described in Anne Elizabeth Moore's "17 Theses on the Edge"), it is best to remember to bring some change so as not to get reamed out by La Dame Pipi, the Parisian goddess of les toilettes. It will be hysterically funny for those around you, but that won't comfort you while La Dame Pipi is chastising you for thinking you are above the fee.
Oh, and the issue also brought me back into the Xanadu Universe! Cue the shameless self promotion!
June 23, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Chuck Forsman
Chuck Forsman is the creator of the surreal comic series Snake Oil. The Center for Cartoon Studies graduate came to my attention through a friend's stockpile of zines and sundry other goodies from this year's MoCCA Festival. His work is reminiscent of Josh Simmons' Jessica Farm (see our April 28th Heartthrob entry) in visual style, tone, and the fact that he treats us to a story that has much to offer yet is in no way mapped to any foreseeable conclusion. He also takes the extra step in hand silk screening the cover for every issue and using a hard stock, darker linen paper, which creates an interesting texture to his printing that is not seen so often these days. Be sure to check out his blog for visuals and to pick up the first two issues of Snake Oil. And watch out for issue #3, which should be out sometime soon.
Tell me where the idea behind Snake Oil came from. What influenced the story?
Snake Oil started as my thesis project at The Center for Cartoon Studies. It was originally to be a collection of shorter stories. I was struggling with what I wanted to do as far as something that felt like my own until Lynda Barry came and did a two day workshop at CCS. She charged my creativity and showed us a way to write that really worked for me. The main narrative in Snake Oil is actually, for lack of a better term, made up as I go along. It stays very interesting for me to write as I go. Before, I was writing these stories and spending so much time sculpting them that by the time it came to draw the pages I was completely bored and it was hard to keep my attention. I think as I go along the story will start to close up and I'll have some sort of map to follow. But as a rule I never write out more than five pages in advance before I do the finished art.
Your series starts off with a man's marital issues and two giant buffalo goons. Where do you plan to take the story in Snake Oil 03?
As you can see from my last answer, I don't really know. That is not really true. I can't help but have some ideas but things seem to change so much during every step that it's really hard for me to say. Snake Oil is all about me experimenting and trying out new things. I realize that this may result in non-consistent story-telling and art but I can only hope that the folks that are reading are drawn in enough to not have that take them out of the experience too much.
You studied at the somewhat new Center for Cartoon Studies. Can you tell me about your experience there?
I just graduated in May and it was so bitter-sweet. I was excited to be on my own and keep making my books, but I had such an amazing 2 years at CCS that it was really hard to let go. Going to CCS was one of the best decisions I ever made. The faculty is so supportive of me and my classmates and I learned a lot from them, but the biggest thing I walked away from CCS with was making some of the most amazing irreplaceable friends I have ever had. They influence and inspire me everyday. Because of this and the growing community building up around CCS, I have decided to stay in the area for at least another year to keep making comics in that environment.
What is the Awesome anthology, and what is it's accompanying scholarship about?
The Awesome anthology is a book put together by Charlito and Mr. Phil, hosts of a podcast that focus on covering Indie comics called Indie Spinner Rack. I have been listening to them and made friends with them before I went to CCS. They have been really great to me, and they decided to put together an anthology of comics with contributions from artists in the community that had built up around the show. They teamed up with Evil Twin comics to publish it, and they also said they would donate a percentage of sales to one lucky student at CCS. They asked me to be in the book so I didn't even think I was eligible for the scholarship. So one day they called me up and asked if I would come on the show to talk about Snake Oil. A few days later I appeared on the show over the phone and they told me I won the scholarship. I honestly couldn't believe it because I could think of so many of my classmates that deserved such an award. I am so honored that they felt I deserved this and I just hope that me continuing to make comics is enough of a return of the favor.
Do you find it difficult distributing your zine? What advice can you give to other artists and zine makers?
Distribution is something I think about a lot. I began to realize that after I made my first couple mini comics that I really needed to put more energy into getting these books into people's hands. So with Snake Oil I send out press releases and copies of the book to shops and comics press websites. Tabling at conventions like SPX and MoCCA is also extremely important. Not only do comics readers and other artists attend these shows but also a lot of retailers will go looking to buy stock for their shops. On the side, I go to shops that I know are mini-comic friendly and even shops that aren't and try to sell them books. Anytime I take a trip I think about what shops I will be near and bring along some comics. I also sell my books on my blog and that has done much better than I thought it would.
The best advice I can give to others is to just keep making new work. I think it's really important for you to get your name out there as much as possible and to have a somewhat steady stream of work coming down the line. And making friends with other folks doing the same thing is always good. People talk. That's good. There are also a lot of zine and comic distros around where you can submit your publication. Distribution is not always easy, and for most people it's the boring part of comics and zine making, but it's pretty important. Unless you have a publisher, or whatever, you have to think about this stuff and really follow through with it or else no one will even see the work.
I have never read of Margit Sandemo before, but holy shit, she is now one of my favorite women.
More remarkably, Norwegian-born Sandemo survived childhood trauma, claiming that, when she was 11, she killed a man when he attempted to rape her. She is 84, but goes whitewater rafting every year in Iceland. She says she has a guardian angel called Virgil, whom she has seen on numerous occasions and I had read that she considers herself a psychic. "I'm not psychic, but I can see people from other dimensions," she says, gathering her English. "I see ghosts and I have seen little people." Like humans, she says, but about four feet high; pixies, I suppose.
(Future Bookslut contributor) Nicholas Hogg, author of Show Me the Sky, was on BBC to talk about his debut novel and read his short story "Womble." You'll have to fast forward through some random opera singing to get to him.
Paul Collins is the only writer whose essay about the overhyped (there, I said it) semicolon I can read without wanting to tear out my eyes. Has any previous form of punctuation ever received so much attention?
I have not actually read this book but I want Ms. Dowd to know that men are very necessary. Without men, for example, I think we would be losing the War in Iraq.
When referring to him, put a "p" after the "S" in "Sedaris," so that what you're saying is "Spedaris." This isn't a put down exactly; it's actually just a mispronunciation of his name, but if enough people start doing it, I have no doubt it will drive him fucking crazy.
More people are taking the train these days, the poor bastards. I take the train to see my sister one state away, and I always regret it. They should pass out copies of Jenny Diski's book on train travel in the stations, so when you're losing your will to live, stuck out in a field somewhere with no explanation why you're not moving, you at least have something to read. From Stranger on a Train:
I was nauseous with lack of sleep, but smoked and drank coffee through the morning, as we passed through flat anonymous country shrouded in morning mist. All I could think of was arriving in Chicago and connecting with the Empire Builder, where I had a bed. We were running an hour late, but when we reached the outskirts of Chicago and the tracks multiplied, merging from all directions into the frantic hub that was the dead centre of the American railroad system, we slowed to an alarming speed where you know that nothing but a complete halt can come of it. Surrounded by goods trains and containers, overhead cables screeching and singing, iron and steel, clinker, smoke, rust, dust, grime and bone-juddering noise of metal wheels on metal rail jangling and grinding, shuddering to a stop, lurching into movement, the Lake Shore Limited finally came to a dead standstill about five hundred yards outside Union Station, Chicago. We waited in expectant silence, and then waited some more. The child in the seat next to me began to sing tunelessly: 'One hour we've been waiting... two hours we've been waiting... three hours we've been waiting...' He got to ten hours and then started again. And then again. I don't know how many times he started again, but a real-life hour and a half later we were still waiting in the goods yard and the freight trains took priority. No one murmured any complaint, we just sat, our bags packed, ready after our 19-hour journey to disembark and go home or make the next connection. Apart from the child next to me, who was beginning to sound like our psyches singing in our ears, and who, like my psyche, I thought needed suppressing, there was a grim silence of a captive, helpless audience with nowhere else to go staring through the grime of the windows into the noise and shunting chaos of filthy, smoky air just yards from, but utterly beyond the reach of, our destination...
[Two hours later...] "That was nothing," a woman behind me said as we were bustled along by the porters as if being late was our fault. "I once waited in the Chicago yards for eight hours."
I understood the silence of the others on the train. It was sheer terror of what could be.
June 20, 2008
I still think there should be a regulatory committee to handle the glut of memoirs. Writers should apply for a license to tell their life story. I was reading Kerry Cohen's Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity and was disappointed to find that "promiscuity" is more a matter of quality than quantity. If there was a committee, I imagine them telling her, "We're sorry, but the formula to qualify for true sluttiness is as follows:
# of Total Men > Your Age x 1.5
Having slept with 40 men by the time you're in your late 30s does not make you a slut. Go back into the world and get back to us when you've done something really depraved. Also, if you can, please find a better reason for sluttiness than your parents' divorce. It's been done."
When I was starting out, there was no such thing as a credibility gap. People trusted their leaders... Essentially what I was trying to do in the strip was introduce my readers to what government was doing with language, how it said one thing but meant another, and, of particular interest to me, was how the Nuclear Regulating Agency — it was originally called the Atomic Energy Commission and then it was called the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — would deny during underground tests that there was any fallout while sheep were falling over in fields. And John Wayne was getting cancer for being out on location where this was going on.
Rather than being a setback, however, I would claim that my lack of academic qualifications as a scientist is actually precisely what does qualify me to try and communicate effectively to the general public about this issue. After all, I'm one of the latter rather than the former.
Alan Rabinowitz totally made me cry as he was interviewed on the Colbert Report about his book Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed. Oh look, today has a theme: crying. I can pull out my copy of About Alice, the book that made me cry in the bathtub for an hour or so. Or not.
This paper-puppet, modernized version of Dante's Inferno features Delmot Mulroney as Dante, a mullet-headed James Cromwell as Virgil, and Strom Thurmond dressed as Mrs. Butterworth. The trailer's worth 2 minutes! Ovation TV, which is currently airing the movie, has made another clip available here.
Or, try Dante in claymation: This is what happens when you graduated with a major in Italian lit in today's world. Unemployment ensues, followed by acquisitions of 16mm cameras and months spent bringing exiled 13th century Florentine statesmen to life in plasticine. More about Alexis Waller's film here.
Ultimately, though, nothing quite captures the intensity of Dante's poem like Lego figures. (Bonus: lightsaber action!)
Al Filreis has made a list of recordings of Wallace Stevens poems.
An interview with John Ashbery, after receiving the Griffin prize.
Chinese poets & quake relief.
June 19, 2008
Please Don't (great name, bee-tee-dubs) has posted a new issue on their website featuring three non-fiction pieces, two fiction pieces and an interview. Forgive me for not reading The Wire Symposium, but it would be rather difficult for me to discuss its validity considering that I've never seen the show. (Sidenote: It seems like one of those programs with which you get really involved, and I've got enough on my plate with Lost.)
Mickey Hess's nonfiction essay muses on the larger implications of toilet locations and brilliantly extrapolates that Paris Hilton has the opposite socio-shitting mobility of "Birdman" Hess. He brings up his lackluster book sales numerous times, so let's help him change that by visiting amazon.com! The winner in the fiction category is Susannah Felts for her piece entitled "Leaving the Country." It's all reflected sunlight and big, drooping trees and southern wanderlust that ends in... well, I won't give it away. The interview with Craig Finn of the Hold Steady dips into the fascinating story of John Berryman, the troubled writer of The Dream Songs. Fortunately he doesn't think the rock song is the next great American novel.
"I've often asked myself why I waited so long. People who've been involved in war do wait. Robert Graves let 10 years go by before writing Goodbye to All That, which seemed quite a long time. In the course of adjusting to the strangeness of English life, I'd made this vast effort of fatalistically switching off my memories of wartime China. I never spoke about it to anyone, including my wife or children or any of my friends." He was aware, however, of "an unconscious ferment going on, the knocking on the floorboards, the past under my feet saying: we haven't gone away".
Shel Silverstein's first book Don't Bump the Glump is getting reissued. The Poetry Foundation tracks how he went from being a Playboy contributor to the children's bard.
Hefner recalls that up to that point the young artist had, aside from his contributions while a soldier to the U.S. Army magazine Stars and Stripes, sold just one drawing in his life (to Look magazine). “He didn’t think the check would clear,” Hefner said, chuckling. Silverstein made a beeline to a fast-cash outlet, converted the dough into small bills, took the lettuce home, and deposited it on his father’s kitchen table, nearly causing him to choke on his dinner.
The Guardian is running an excerpt from Felicity Lawrence's Eat Your Heart Out: Why the Food Business Is Bad for the Planet and Your Health.
June 18, 2008
The jacket of Nathaniel Rich’s The Mayor’s Tongue is eye-catching on its own: big red letters, a vaguely vaginal mouth, oohs and aahs and exclamation points forming a zig-zagging tongue. It’s all very surreal. But if you go to the book’s website, there’s a whole other series of covers.
The book’s website works as a marketing tool by creating a whole imaginary world. There’s a made-up biography of reclusive author Constance Eakens, an invented interview with The Paris Review, a counterfeited handwriting sample, some bogus quotes, a fun list of false Eakens sightings, and an archive of the most lovely fake Eakens book covers.
Apparently Rich asked some designer and artist friends of his to create these cover designs, some innovative (glasses made out of glasses!), others quirky or classic or just beautiful, some artificially aged, like this movie edition paperback, and some enjoyably familiar, like something I might have picked up in my poorly-funded grade school library.
This made me want to get out my colored pencils and make some covers of my own –- which it turns out is a possibility! The site includes a call for more designs, which can be e-mailed or uploaded to their Flickr group. As for the book’s contents, Stephen King says, “Kudos to Nathaniel Rich, who has created a brave book, a novel brimming with brio.”
Michael Bracewell was on RTE's The Arts Show talking about his book Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music. (Reason #546 I am in love with Bryan Ferry, from the book: "I would be dressed in a white trench coat -- at the age of 12... I was interested in style.")
Rebecca McClanahan's "Scenes from a Weekend Poetry Conference":
On this mountain all the poets are barefoot or sandaled, even the oldest ones, braless beneath loose sweaters. And all are beautiful, even at breakfast. They speak in line breaks and whispers, their faces pale, cheeks flushed from the all night tussle with the Dark Angel, demanding to know his name.
Shalom Auslander's panel at the Nextbook festival is now available online in audio and video. Love.
June 17, 2008
Former Bookslut Indie Heartthrob, Kevin Sampsell has a new book out from Chiasmus Press. The title, Creamy Bullets, is an example of Sampsell’s Jedi mind trick -- it seems so dirty, but the cover has water skiers on the front and it’s so innocent and gee, I should get my mind out of the gutter.
I sort of know how he does it. Some of his work is dirty and sexy and, at times, uncomfortable, but not all of it. One of my favorite stories of his, “Earotica” from Beautiful Blemish is a mesmerizing tale of the steps a character takes to satisfy a fantasy.
Creamy Bullets has less overt sex than Sampsell’s previous works, but the peculiar and borderline creepy are certainly there. A story about neighbors having sex and an unstoppable ant invasion reveals a grotesque discovery between the shared walls of an apartment building. I was going to quote that one, but this column is about getting it on, and not making you fear neighbors and ants.
Sampsell pulled that sex Jedi mind trick again with the following passage. I read it and though, oh! This is about sex! And I read the whole story and thought -- I’ll use that opening scene for Sticky Pages. And then I started typing it and realized this isn’t about sex at all. But it is a really lovely scene between a long-time married couple. And it could be sexy if you read it the wrong way, or maybe the right way, which might be Sampsell’s plan. And probably how he’ll take over the world.
So today’s Sticky Pages is from the short story, “Cat in Residence” by Kevin Sampsell.
Page 207, Creamy Bullets everyone.
At night, when my wife and I are together at home, we get into our "Night Uniforms." Her Night Uniform is usually baby blue sweats, long sleeve thermal shirt, and a black hoodie. My Night Uniform is being nude. There are some variations to my Night Uniform though. If I keep my socks on it’s called The Lewd Uniform. If I keep my socks and a T-shirt on it’s called The White Trash Uniform. We keep our blinds shut at night.
After this, the reader enters the odd, compelling terrain of Sampsell’s fiction. If you like your fiction dark and surprising, check out Creamy Bullets. And get your mind out of the gutter!
Ladies: Don't date writers.
Hamish Hamilton has launched a new literary magazine called The Five Dials. And as HH has recently published some of my favorite books -- Roger Deakin's Wildwood and James Kelman's Kieron Smith, Boy -- I gave them the benefit of the doubt with their weird formatting and read it anyway. Their first issue includes Iain Sinclair, Hari Kunzru, and Gustave Flaubert's "My Struggles with Bovary."
It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League dees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.
I think I might need a drink to finish reading "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education."
June 16, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Dash Shaw
Dash Shaw (who was featured in New York Magazine yesterday) recently released the graphic novel Bottomless Bellybutton. The thing is a tome unto itself, and it seems to have everyone talking. Shaw recently spoke to Bookslut about creating Bottomless Bellybutton and his webcomic BodyWorld as well as his time at last week's MoCCA Art Festival. You can check out samples from the book at NY Mag's Vulture.
When did you first start making comics?
When I was very, very young. Before kindergarden. I’d use those tan-colored folders as covers and staple in the interiors. My dad would write in the words before I could write.
How would you say your methods of storytelling have progressed from Goddess Head to The Mother's Mouth and Bottomless Bellybutton?
Bottomless Belly Button has more character-based scenes. When I was working on Goddess Head and The Mother’s Mouth, which were done around the same time, I was interested in pure sequences. So instead of having a scene where characters were doing something relating to the emotion, I’d try to get two drawings, face-to-face across a spread that would have a feeling. It was more about juxtaposing images. But now, working on a webcomic, I don’t think about a page or page-spreads at all. It’s all character-based scenes.
Abandoning whatever I’m working on clears my mind. That’s part of why my comics look so different from each other. Whenever I abandon what I’m doing, I suddenly feel clear and open to new possibilities. Obviously, you can’t delete previous work from your mind entirely. I’m sure it’s being carried through somehow, but I never feel like I’m developing a personal style or oeuvre. That doesn’t interest me. It sounds crippling.
You (as well as many other talented cartoonists and artists) recently exhibited your work at MoCCA Fest in NYC. How would you say MoCCA differs from any other comic con or expo?
It’s pretty similar to SPX, which is in Bethesda. But since MoCCA is in New York City it draws a different group of people. There are more corresponding events around the city, like the Post-Bang thing this year and all of the book release parties. At SPX everyone is stuck in the same motel like a horror movie. MoCCA is more spread out.
Right now you are serializing your webcomic BodyWorld. How is the experience in writing this story different from that of Bottomless Bellybutton?
Bottomless was done more like how most authors write books or essays on a computer. You write a paragraph, and then maybe delete it or change the words around or decide to put it somewhere else in the essay. Typing is easy. It’s not difficult to press a key on the keyboard. So you can type all you want and then edit and carve it into what you want. The drawings in Bottomless are simple and consistent enough that I could draw out a scene in a week and then decide if I should put it in, or move it around, or change some panels. It was flexible. It came together in the editing.
BodyWorld has a more polished, illustrative look. So pressing a key on the BodyWorld keyboard takes a month of painful drawing and painting and measuring. You have to know that’s the key you want, right? I have it planned out and now I’m executing it slowly, one piece at a time, start to finish.
Who would you say are your biggest influences?
I keep coming back to Chris Ware, Gary Panter and a filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. So those are probably the “biggest.” But I’m influenced by a kajillion people. I think if you’re into comics you can probably see what I’m up to. I’ll take Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy and turn him into Paul Panther in BodyWorld. Keith Mayerson’s comic book “Horror Hospital Unplugged” introduced to me a way of changing drawings throughout a single story. I think about that book a lot. Bottomless looks like a combination of Chris Ware, Chester Brown, and Osamu Tezuka. It’s not subtle in that book. BodyWorld is more subtle, but it’s still not where I want it to be. Remixing is an art form. I’m trying to get better at it. If you hear Gary Panter talk about his work, he’ll say things like “This painting I did is Jack Kirby and David Hockney smashed together.” It looks totally different, but you can see how he’s pulling on things. It takes intelligence and a strong sense of self to pull that off.
What are you working on now, and what's on the horizon for you?
Right now I’m working on BodyWorld. After that, I have a longer book called “Torture Hospital” and small comedy called “Slobs and Nags” that I want to do. But comics take a long time, man. I started Bottomless when I was 22 and I’m 25 now, when it came out. When you’re working on a comic, it’s your whole entire life. So you have to choose your projects carefully.
With the rise of the celebrity author comes the rise of the ghostwriter.
The public will cheerfully accept most things from our celebrities except the knowledge that they have deliberately tried to deceive us. This was the golden rule stated by Christy Walsh, the man who coined the term "ghostwriting" in 1921 and established the Christy Walsh Syndicate to produce articles and books in the names of leading American sportsmen, including Babe Ruth. "Don't insult the intelligence of the public by claiming these men write their own stuff," was his code of conduct, and it's one that publishers are still trying to interpret.
When I was first assigned to write about literary magazines, my esteemed editor asked me to summarize "what's worth reading, what's an abomination, who's getting published..." I think it's fair to say that the Paris Review is always worth a gander, and this Spring issue is no exception. I learned a myriad new things, including that Louis Armstrong had a strange and unexplained laxative habit, that Kazuo Ishiguro wrote a play for the BBC that was never produced entitled Potatoes and Lovers and that it is possible to connect contemporary poetry to Animaniacs if you try hard enough (the poem I'm referencing, "Badger Disguised as a Monk" by Elizabeth Spires, isn't available online, but you can find the other end of the connection here.)
The interviews with Ishiguro and Leonard Michaels provide a healthy, balanced look at the production of and people behind great fiction: one well mannered and drawn to dream logic, the other acerbic in his opinions. The stand-out pieces for me were two of the stories. "Keep It Bible," which was written by student named Ryan McIlvain, is the story of a young Mormon missionary in Brazil contemplating his faith (and mulheres.) I don't think I have to make a reference to our current societal Mormon-obsession; just follow my lead and go get your next fix. The other story I loved was "Box" by J. David Stevens. It reminded me of an And Then There Were None for the age of technology.
The Telegraph relates the scandal of the Lygons of Madresfield Court, later becoming a source of inspiration for Evelyn Waugh. It wasn't William sleeping with a servant that bothered people:
The incident was reported throughout London society and Bend'or hired detectives to gather further evidence. William had broken the Eleventh Commandment, one held dear by his class: 'Thou Shalt Not Get Caught.'
I spent the weekend not reading, by which I mean I had picked out a book to read while Chicago got hit with the castoffs of Iowa's storms, and then I discovered there was a reality television show about a young, kinda hot exorcist. And the whole season is available on demand. I got zero reading done.
So this morning -- out of episodes -- I dug up an excerpt from Michael Cuneo's American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty while I wait for tonight's premiere of Psychic Kids or whatever it's called: young psychics, trained to be powerful mediums! I love cable reality programming.
June 13, 2008
The best thing about this quite lovely article about James Morris, who later became Jan Morris, is this anecdote about the Queen (thanks to Margaret for the link):
She asked the Queen: "Do you remember when they climbed Everest for the first time, and the news came to you on the day before your coronation?"
"Yes, of course I remember," the Queen replied, to what she obviously thought was a foolish question.
"Well," said Jan, "I was the person who brought the news back from Everest so that it got to you on time."
This left the bemused Queen wondering how this grey haired woman, or any woman, could have been the first with such dramatic news. Morris watched her reaction.
"Her eyes went cold," she said. "I felt sorry for her because she always has people to explain things, and there was nobody around to put her straight. She suddenly found herself in totally unknown territory."
Graeme Wood channels George Plimpton in Mozambique. He goes to write a travel book, and ends up playing Plimpton as an extra on the set of Ali.
She demurred but didn't seem to know what I was talking about, so I told her I resembled Plimpton — a shameless lie, since although Plimpton and I are relatively tall, he was a silver-haired, aristocratic, 40-something white guy, and I an unshaven half-Chinese man of only 21.
The 2008 IMPAC award (very global village, very literary, very rich -- €100,000) has been announced, with debut Lebanese author Rawi Hage winning for his novel De Niro's Game. Hage is in Dublin and has just won the world's wealthiest book prize; critics predict that tomorrow he will be trying to buy out his hangover.
At the website for Texas's Harry Ransom Center, you can take this excellent quiz to learn whether you're a Beatnik. It's based on a questionnaire Gerard Malanga sent Daisy Aldan in 1960. JPGs of Malanga's original are also available: one, two, three, and four. (Via non-relative John Jones.) This gives me an excuse to point to this 2002 interview Richard Marshall did with Malanga for 3AM.
While preparing to teach a World Lit class this summer, I discovered that FSG has allowed Christopher Logue's All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad to go out of print (though Amazon has had new copies all summer). Books go out of print all the time, of course, but it was uncannily like being at the death of something cool. A sample of All Day is online here. All Day Permanent Red is an excellent antidote to our culture's increasingly virtual experience of war. (And it comes with high praise: My students didn't much like it at first because it "seemed like poetry.")
Al Filreis has an excellent discussion of C. A. Conrad's (Soma)tic Midge: In this sequence, Conrad writes whatever he wants under the vague (that is to say, only generally defined) somatic influence of foods of a certain color. . . . So these poems are rule-bound - procedural poetry - but the effect is left to the reader to understand according to his or her belief (if "belief" be the word) in the idea that we are what we eat. To exactly the extent one believes we are what we eat these poems will seem specifically somatic. Listen to Conrad read the poems here.
The papers, audio files, and videos associated with the University of Arizona Poetry Center's May conference on conceptual poetry are now online. What's "conceptual poetry"? Watch Christopher Olivares's YouTube definition. But also see the Conceptual Poet's Armor, as well as the fun K. Silem Mohammad's been having with his Nonconceptualist Manifesto.
The Victorianist in me can't resist Crg Hill's found Hay(na)ku from Hardy's Tess.
June 12, 2008
Today's shameless self-promotion: I wrote a piece for this year's installment of Coudal's Field Tested Books. I went with -- no surprise, I suppose -- reading William James's Varieties of Religious Experience while having a spiritual breakdown in Argentina. (Spiritual breakdown sounds way better than nervous breakdown.)
Nelson, Viejo's manager, asked me when I first pulled out the book, “Sasha” — as I was nicknamed because Jessa “is not a real name” — “why are you reading this book on your vacation?” “Because all of my money has disappeared and my boyfriend fucked someone else.”
Jane Austen comics
"This novel is a social commentary."
"Is it a social commentary about hunky dreamboats?"
Indra Sinha, author of a Booker-shortlisted novel about the impact of a loosely fictionalised version of the Bhopal chemical disaster, has begun an indefinite hunger strike in support of survivors still suffering from the effects of the devastating 1984 chemical leak.
Mark Ames's The eXile is shutting down.
Last night I met with my Russian publisher to "put one in its brain," as George Romero's humans would say. Except that putting this paper down is not so easy—imagine if Romero's zombies had things like tax bills that can't be ignored, debts to pay off, favors owed to other important zombies—because you never know when you'll run into that zombie again.
A while back, the Poetry Foundation had an article about the multiple people claiming they wrote the poem "Footprints." This should not be surprising, but somehow it is: the multiple authors are now suing for the copyright and, of course, the royalties.
My mother (Alice Walker) may be revered by women around the world - goodness knows, many even have shrines to her. But I honestly believe it's time to puncture the myth and to reveal what life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution.
Oh, Rebecca Walker, here we go again. I think maybe you and Caitlin Flanagan need to get together and work on your mother issues together, and then the rest of us women can be at peace. Maybe you could start a book club, and have this be your first selection. I know it's probably not going to happen, since you get paid for your mommy issues by the word and all, but think about it.
June 11, 2008
Chick lit covers are supposed to be pastel-colored and have curly fonts in order to appear to one’s girlish sensibilities. But I have noticed another trend in this genre’s book design: women with missing heads. A weird majority of covers in this Candy Covered Books index of chick lit shows a woman cropped above the neck, turning away her face, or wearing a cleverly-placed hat to obscure any facial characteristics. My reactions here are 1) to look at the headless protagonist and easily put myself In Her Shoes (ha! no, sorry, corny), 2) to consider how I will answer when my future hypothetical daughters ask me why their bodies can't be that stylized, and 3) to recall and develop an inferiority complex over that time I bought Bridget Jones's Diary instead of Proust.
The cover of Certain Girls has not one but TWO females with their faces obscured, posing elegantly with a teal armchair and some curtains in the background. If I had not read the excerpt from Publishers Weekly, I would assume this book was about a stage mother who turns her back on her child after the child's embarrassingly lackluster performance as Eliza Doolittle. The girl hides her head in shame.
On the topic of shame, this poor character goes so far as to duck her lovely head under a newspaper. The flashing cameras and microphones indicate that she is running from the press and not from her lack of self-worth.
I personally don’t eat (much) beef because I am Hindu, but apparently Real Women do, as featured in this Tracy McArdle cover. Despite her acceptance of red meat, this woman remains anonymously decapitated. Probably for the best, since I'm not sure if that thing on her plate is a cow or just a large horned rat.
There is a better sense of equality in This Charming Man, in that both the woman and the charming man substitute their faces with their hair. The man is a suave Irish politician, which explains why the cover is green.
A woman in the White House? Her torso, at least. And I guess it's not about a female president but rather a female health care policy advisor. I don't know if this is chick lit or not, but it came up in my Barnes & Noble chick lit search.
And finally, there are the Johanna Edwards book covers featuring coat hangers instead of brains. This brightly-colored dress has been accessorized with a tape measure belt that hangs emptily. I like to imagine the heroine consuming one too many diet shakes and then dissolving like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Anne Ishii (love) explains the weirdness of Japanese portrayals of medicine and doctors in manga.
Autopsies are also rare in Japan. Few police departments have medical examiners, and autopsies are performed on only 9% of “unnatural death,” according to one statistic, compared to 100% in many other developed countries. So of course a fictional medical examiner may find flowers potted in a murder victim’s brain, or a rope flossed through someone’s entire digestive system. The insides of murder victims are practically science fiction in Japan.
LADIES, we are trying to HELP YOU here. We won't let you into the canon, of course, but we can let you write silly poems about the monarchy and prance around a bit. Work with us, because you're making us look a little desperate to not appear sexist.
So you want to write a memoir? Please, don't.
Mark Ames, founder of satirical newspaper eXile, found himself facing an unexpected audit of his paper's editorial content in Moscow. (Link from Maud.)
The younger Russians on our staff were relatively calm about it. But when our Soviet-era accountant opened the office door and saw the four squat figures in bad official Soviet outfits, she turned white and vanished, the door closing on its own. When our middle-age courier arrived, she too turned white, stopped, then put her head down and walked past us, crossing herself three hurried times in the Orthodox Christian fashion before locking herself in the design room. You have to understand, to anyone with a memory of the Soviet era, those bad suits that the officials wore are extremely menacing, like red stripes on a reptile.
My "Paulina" did not want to be filmed, she said, because right-wing members of her family -- one of her sons, one of her daughters -- haven't the slightest inkling of her secret heroism, how she risked everything to save people like me. If her identity surfaced on a screen, she added, there would be drastic consequences to pay.
June 10, 2008
When I was an adolescent, I went to see Skid Row. I believe they opened for Faith No More or something, I don’t really remember. All I remember is waiting outside the San Diego Sports Arena for Sebastian Bach to walk by me. And he did. And his long, golden hair was, well, golden and long. And he wore really tight leather pants and he was Sebastian Bach. I probably screamed or something. I don’t remember. This same thing happened when The Cult came to town and also, one night when Paulie Shore was playing at the Comedy Store in La Jolla (his mom owned the club). These were my youthful brushes with rock stars. Oh, and meeting Alice Cooper when I was like eight.
After a few screaming fits, and moving to San Francisco where I realized the error of my ways, (Skid Row -- gah!), I learned that the cutest boys were in the indie bands and I hooked up with my very own mod drummer (who had great arms, but was always broke), and then a scooter boy (on whose Lambretta I broke my femur), and then a bookseller (right, because booksellers are rock stars!) and now I’m over the boys in bands thing. But I can’t quite shake the boys on scooters thing, or boys with their noses in a book. What can I say? I love the smell of paper and two-stroke oil.
What’s my point? I’m not sure, but it has something to do with the fact that I met Pamela Des Barres at BEA. She was sitting there waiting to sign books. Waiting. No one was asking her to sign anything. And I wandered by and the publicist grabbed me and asked if I wanted I’m With the Band (the updated edition) signed. By Pamela Des Barres. And I had a few thoughts -- why? And is this real? And does she know the plaster caster? What the hell is the plaster caster? And finally, oh, this would be perfect for Sticky Pages.
So she signed my book and I said, “uh, could you mark the sex scenes because I write a sex column and it would be much easier for me if you could just ear mark them.”
And she said, “I don’t know where they are, just look up Jimmy Page.”
And I said, “Okay. Totally.”
Here’s another confession: until I opened her book, I had no idea what band Jimmy Page was in. I know. Two more things you should know about me: I’ve never heard a Rush song, nor have I heard a Grateful Dead song all the way through. The late '60s and '70s are a little lost on me musically.
And I’ve never heard any Led Zeppelin song that wasn’t "Stairway to Heaven." They did that, right?
Sure, sure, write me a hate letter. Or better, just make me a mix CD and I’ll learn about music and whatever. Thank you.
So I opened the book last night purely in search of the sex scenes, and what I found was a delightful read. As much as I think Siri Hustvedt’s The Blindfold is the perfect representation of early 20s angst, I think I’m With the Band is the flipside to that angst. It’s the giggly, dramatic, earth shattering story of a girl with a crush. I mean, who hasn’t experienced that roller coaster feeling of what if that hot guy on the bike calls? And what if he doesn’t? And he did! But today he didn’t. I’M GOING TO DIE!
And that guy is always so hot. And you’re sure girls are just flinging their panties at him at every turn, but in truth, they are not. Except if your crush is Jimmy Page. Then they really are. So part of I’m with the Band is Pamela Des Barres dealing with having a huge crush on Jimmy Page, touring with him a little, having a lot of sex with him and then living with other women in other cities tossing their panties at him, and so much more.
The tone of the book is light and silly and the memoir is sprinkled with entries from Des Barres’s journal of the time, making it even sweeter. The writing is not particularly memorable, but it captures that sun-kissed, honey-tinted time in everyone’s life when boys are so cute and so confusing and whyyyyyyyyyyyy hasn’t he called??????????
Here’s a scene from a time Jimmy Page was shining her on, but she was still so hooked on him, she wouldn’t sleep with Mick Jagger just in case Jimmy Page would find out. Page 172:
I had a real short dress on and he slobbered all over my thighs, chewing me up real good. I was breathing in heaving gasps and he inched higher up my thigh, leaving a sticky trail like a snail had been crawling into my panties. Devouring my legs like they were edible, he left one massive swollen bruise on my right inner thigh and I excused myself and fled wildly into the night. I hoped hard that I wouldn’t be classified as a prick tease, and I prayed the hickey would heal before Jimmy got a load of it.
Wow, sounds just like my twenties.
Absinthe: New European Writing Volume 8
I bought this Toulouse-Lautrec-decorated volume in the hopes that it would quench my thirst for the titular hallucinogenic liquid and I wouldn't have to resort to sampling Mansinthe. Worth seven dollars? I'm on the fence. The volume contains a number of poems that are aggravatingly juvenile ("Boredom and nightmare;/ it is all the same to me!") and others are that are equally as frustrating in their employment of pastoral imagery. ("The ancient satyr in sandals and a shepherd's cloak/inhabits the darting eyes of the wind.") Maybe it's the translator's fault. The whole magazine may have been entirely redeemed by Grahame Davies's (Everything Must Change) short story Meinwen and the French poet Jean-Pierre Rosnay's humorous "Waiting." Fun fact! When Rosnay was a teenager, he joined the Resistance under the code name "bebe." God, I want a code name.
At the end of the day, though the collection leaves something to desired, it's probably safer than imbibing any liquid currently associated with Marilyn Manson.
"I think we could have done better," shrugged computer science major Kevin Bombino. He says Rowling lacks the gravitas a Harvard commencement speaker should have.
"You know, we're Harvard. We're like the most prominent national institution. And I think we should be entitled to… we should be able to get anyone. And in my opinion, we're settling here."
You know, you're not actually to supposed to say that "entitled" bit out loud.
If you think, as I did, that the most offensive part of the audio book industry was their award name -- The Audies -- wait until you read yet another Impending Doom! article on the publishing biz:
Paper-and-ink books are in mortal peril. Book publisher's sales are down. Book readers are declining. These are the cheerless quotes coming out of the recent BookExpo America held at the Los Angeles Convention Center this past weekend. But over at the Biltmore Hotel, a short hop away, folks attending the 2008 Audie Awards were smiling and whistling a much happier tune
They're smiling because the major announcement of the night was the decision to re-name the event the Vagina Style Audio Publishing Prizes.
Over in the pro-vagina camp at the 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards, Best Lesbian Debut went to Aoibheann Sweeney's Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking, and Best Women's Fiction to The IHOP Papers by Ali Liebegott. The Orange Prize haters would be cheered to know about a Men's Fiction award, which went to Andre Aciman's sublime Call Me By Your Name, while Best Gay Debut Fiction was given to Christopher Kelly's A Push and a Shove. Winners from all 21 categories can be found over here.
June 9, 2008
Jezebel has a quick translation of a passage from the German sex/hygiene book causing a major freak out. It involves hemorrhoids and anal sex.
The Guardian talks to Saad Eskander, the director of Baghdad's national library.
I can't tell which is better -- the headline:
or this paragraph:
A provocative female rapper in Germany, Lady Bitch Ray, who runs her own independent label, Vagina Style Records, grabbed headlines when she accused Ms. Roche of stealing her explicit form of empowering raunch. “I am what’s in the book,” said the rapper, 27, whose real name is Reyhan Sahin, in a telephone interview.
I really should have named this site Vagina Style books. A friend just left for Berlin, so she promises to report back on the sex and hygiene scandal.
Rose Tremain's The Road Home has won the £30,000 Orange Broadband Prize. Judge Kirsty Lang said: "(Tremain) has been overlooked in the past so this is real bonus." Joanna Kavenna won the £10,000 Orange Prize for New Writers for her novel Inglorious.
Patriachy responded, "is still going okay."
June 6, 2008
This is way too depressing for a Friday, but I figure if I wait until Monday, it'll only be worse. Best to post it on a day when there'll be drinking later, than destroy a whole week on the first day. So here it is: an excerpt from Honor Killing: Stories of Men Who Killed by Ayse Onal.
Joanna Kavenna's Inglorious is now out in paperback, blessedly missing its previous chick litty cover. It was my favorite book from last year, and after it's made the rounds of my friends (all forced to read it), I'll happily pack it for my summer trip. Kavenna just won the Orange Prize for New Writers, and she is interviewed by the Guardian.
"It's wonderful to have your early work supported, because no one's asking you to be a writer and there isn't a career stall set up when you're 18 with lots of people saying, 'Come and be a writer, there are great pension opportunities and loads of cash.' I'm sure it's lovely to get a big prize when you're an established writer, but you feel much more at this stage that you can just fall off the planet completely."
The board voted 3-2 Monday to have "The New Joy of Sex" and "The Joy of Gay Sex" kept off shelves for good, following up on a March meeting when the board voted to temporarily move the books to the director's office.
The books, which contain drawings and photos of sexual activity, first drew criticism in 2005 from Randy Jackson, director of a Christian activist group called "Youth 4 Revolution," based in Nampa.
The name of their little activist group really proves they need more books in their lives, not fewer.
June 5, 2008
The WSJ lists the "five best books of war poetry"; it's entirely characteristic that none of the examples have been published within the last 80 years. (It's easy to find recent poets *against* war, of course.)
An update from Richard Abrams, the psychology professor denied tenure for supporting Flarf. The one thing I'll add is that he gives the English department far too much credit when he writes, presumably the English department recognizes who is and isn't a Flarf poet. I'm betting not (Last link via Silliman).
In Guernica this month, translations of two poems by Hamutal Bar-Yosef.
The eighth issue of Noö Journal is up; these are usually poetry links, but I liked Claudia Smith's "Babyfat" very much.
Dale Smith's Marsupial Inquirer column this month takes up Jenny Browne's use of simile and metaphor as ways of presenting the material world.
Finally, I have at long last assembled a simple list of the various folks I've interviewed in this space over the past year or so. (And be sure to read the interview with Jeff Warren in the issue this month!)
Kevin Myers introduces his book Watching the Door: Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast, a book I love, love, love.
As a mixture of social philosophy and fine shtick, her work has the rare virtue of seeming at the same time totally insane and totally right. That's a virtue we used to look for in philosophers, from Diogenes and Socrates up to Nietzsche.
June 4, 2008
Chicago fall interns needed. Please e-mail me for more information.
It is time that the bigotry against White males stop once and for all. Why don’t more minorities, and women, who cry about diversity ever consider entrepreneurship? White males are creating companies and jobs every day… think Google, Microsoft. and practically every other company. White males are carrying most of the the weight…It is about time for women and minorities to:
1. Start your own companies
2. Hire people,
3. Be part of the SOLUTION (and stop whining)!!!
I wonder sometimes if mental health professionals lurk the comments looking for potential clients. Either way, I had many conversations about entrepreneurship with my women friends (all exceptionally talented, and almost all running their own businesses) while writing my latest Smart Set column. Because while I liked the book -- a business guide for women called The Boss of You -- I am very tired of women needing their own special how-to books, especially since they tend to be written by amateurs who managed to successfully do something once, and now think they can write a book. And then they are published by Seal Press, the company that published Inga Muscio's disgusting declaration that it's a-okay for women to poison themselves with herbal abortions. But the general tone of conversation was that women run businesses differently than men, are less likely to have insider support, and are more likely to be turned down for loans. So if you're going to buy a how-to guide for women, it should probably be The Boss of You.
Seal Press calls itself the publisher of “Groundbreaking Books For Women, By Women,” but theirs is a very specific definition of “women.” Their idea of womanhood is no less narrow than that of the We Channel: Television for Women. The We Channel may define women as those creatures who believe happiness lies in finding the right wedding planner and pilates instructor, but Seal Press defines women as tattooed 20- and 30-somethings who use alternative menstrual products and think that working in the sex industry imbues you with Wisdom.
If I were at the bookstore and looking at a table of books, and had to, for some reason, choose one based solely on looks, I would probably buy the one with the bright yellow jacket. Eric G. Wilson’s Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy sports such a design, which -- despite its hue -- retains both subtlety and a sense of humor, a surprising example of what can be done without an image. Designer Jennifer Carrow comments on her process:
Were other ideas in the running before this one, and how did you make the decision to go with this design?
My initial ideas after reading the text had to do with imagery involving popped balloons and the classic smiley face button. I found some yellow balloons and a button at this novelty store near my office. The popped balloons looked pretty bad. It wasn’t the idea I had in my head at all. So then I took the button outside, jumped on it and photographed it on the street as if it had been discarded. The most bizarre thing about that afternoon was that while I was in Union Square, squatting down to photograph my faux damaged button, I saw this smiley face sticker on the ground. It was kind of magical. I did some comps with those photos and others, but while I was playing around with the type I came to the frown and just started to strip away the elements.
What prompted the choice to leave out the eyes on the smiley face?
The eyes just weren’t necessary. I think I had them at one point, but quickly took them off when I saw that they didn’t make the concept any stronger. I liked that the entire focus was on the frown.
How much guidance/direction were you given from the author or editor on the concept?
The editor had just told me the book was going to be this great small trim size. She and the author were both very enthusiastic when they first saw the jacket and so kind to leave the subtitle off of the front.
Were you happy with the final design?
I am very happy with it... which is sort of funny given the title.
(Please welcome Kelsey Osgood, our newest intern. She will be covering the world of literary magazines for the Bookslut blog. - Jessa)
Jason Cowley surely won't leave behind a legacy at Granta as raucous and productively unproductive as Bill Buford's, nor as, well, long as Ian Jack's, but it is sure to be a tenure that will be talked about for at about four months (standard break-up mathematics). His first (and only) solo-edited issue of the Cambridge-born lit mag received good reviews, but the red flags were there in the promises of "change within continuity" and the fact that 101 was the first issue ever to be published without a theme. Oh, and also that he himself noted the unfortunate number of his debut issue. "101: an Orwellian number of doom! But my colleagues and I had no feelings of anxiety or dread as we worked on this latest issue," he wrote in his Editor's Letter.
My guess? He jinxed it.
His replacement is former deputy editor Alex Clark. Publisher Sigrid Rausing claims that they're not throwing confetti because she's a girl, just because her hair is so pretty and golden.
Soon to shoot up the bestseller list, I'm sure: Learn to Train Squirrels for Fun and Profit.
Gary Snyder, winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, is interviewed at the Poetry Foundation.
Call it poetic justice: More than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost’s former home for a beer party and trashed the place are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment.
Using “The Road Not Taken” and another poem as jumping-off points, Frost biographer Jay Parini hopes to show the vandals the error of their ways — and the redemptive power of poetry.Will Self's The Butt has won the 2008 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, despite being more teeth-achingly wry than funny in any measurable sense. Focus groups report that it is not nearly as funny as this, this, or literature's side-splitting comedy hit of 2008: The Hairstyle of Sebastian Faulks.
I don't know if you've noticed, but open marriages are very in. There were (at least) two books published in the past two months: Jenny Block's Open (read Bookslut's underwhelmed review here) and Tristan Taormino's Opening Up. One of the books arrived on my doorstep with a small tin of breath mints. I didn't think it was weird until I absentmindedly offered a mint to my friend's husband. But I bet fresh breath is even more important when you're banging multiples. Laird Harrison is also working on a book about group marriages, and he has an essay about it at Salon.
June 3, 2008
"Will this be one of those games where the baddy cheats but I win anyway?" sighed Bland. "And will he have a psychopathic sidekick and say, 'Damn you, Bland, we'll meet again' at the end?"
"Oh James," Scarlett fluttered. "You must be psychic. Take me to bed." Bland reddened. "Er. Not now, Scarlett. I'm off to Persia."
You might imagine that Hay is a lovely day out for all the family, a chance for children to meet the authors they love and, conversely, an opportunity for writers to meet the people who actually read their books.
Of course, it’s no such thing. Mainly it’s a chance for ramblers and hippies to gather in a field and convince themselves that everyone thinks the same way that they do.
Laura Miller reviews two new books about branding and product consumption -- Bob Walker's Buying In and Sam Gosling's Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You. (Honestly, I don't want to know.) It's a little depressing and a little reassuring, I guess. After all, I don't own Apple products or drink Red Bull, so I can feel impervious to ad campaigns. But I'm sure Gosling thinks that says something obnoxious about me.
The article, however, makes me want to run around giving out copies of PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. It's a novel about a girl who starts to have serious misgivings about her place of employment once she is forced to get involved with their sneaky marketing techniques. It's like a fictionalized No Logo, but with puzzles, a secret necklace, and sex against a tree.
Welcome to June. We have a new issue full of dream states, Hitler, magical horses, and sex (and impossible love). Also, cookbooks so good you want to sleep with them under your pillow, psychedelic drugs, Freddie Mercury, and running away to join the circus. We've also debuted a new series of interviews with independent booksellers. First up: The Book House in Dinkytown.
The 400-year-old institution of the poet laureate, a post held by Ben Jonson, William Wordsworth and John Betjeman, has been labelled "ridiculous" and "archaic" by Wendy Cope.
Cope, one of the country's most widely read and best-loved poets, is seen as a frontrunner for the position after the expected retirement of Andrew Motion next year. If appointed, Cope would be the first woman laureate.
I love the "if appointed" bit, as if the government does not care that Cope thinks the laureate position is ridiculous. They're just going to show up and start demanding poems. "It's the prince's birthday! We demand you write a rhyme for 'William.'"
June 2, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
This Week: Charles Nevsimal
Run by the husband/wife team of Charles and Deborah Nevsimal, Centennial Press publishes limited edition books of poetry – and hopefully someday fiction – in small run. Charles is a writer whose book Risen was published by Desperado Press in 2007. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, but he cares more about putting the words of others into the world than he does his own. He writes his poetry exclusively on manual typewriters (settling for a MacBook when it comes to fiction), while Deborah creates her own sort of poetry in the form of her many gardens. Together, they have one dog.
When did you start Centennial Press? What was your motivation?
It was post-20th Century, but just barely. I started Centennial Press back in early 2000 because I’d surrounded myself with a number of incredibly talented writer friends who were also, unfortunately, incredibly apathetic when it came to the submission game. Guys like Alex Carlson and GC Fogle. And I just had this growing awareness that they would never send their poetry out to lit journals, small press zines, and the like. Didn’t matter whether I put a gun to their heads, the stubborn bastards. So I started Centennial Press as a means of providing a vehicle through which they could find an audience. I wanted to give them the podium they deserved. Surprisingly, it kinda blossomed into something else entirely.
When you publish a lit mag, inevitably what happens is you meet a lot of poets. Good ones. And thank God, because something needs to offset the vast number of amateurish poems you’re forced to read as editor/publisher. What happens is you start receiving submissions from people you admire. But for me, it’s always just been a grass roots sorta thing. I’m not listed in Poet’s Market. I don’t have a distributor (although I am actively seeking/in dire need of one). It was all just me, on the internet, emailing these poets I dug.
First of all, I subscribed to as many small press mags as I could afford, and I bought enough chapbooks to start my own public library. But I started correspondences with certain poets I loved but didn’t know personally, certain publishers whose work was of the quality that I wanted to produce. And the next thing you know, there’s this buzz. People know about Centennial Press. But I’m just this guy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin putting out books because I love the fact that these things exist on someone’s shelf. That they’re going to exist for the next hundred years. That they might matter to somebody. I mean, how incredible is that? To create something tangible, something lasting, something beautiful for the world to wrap its heart around and own. And so that’s become my motivation … to create something beautiful for the world, and to leave it behind.
What were you up to before this time?
I’d just graduated college in 1999. I attended a medium-small Lutheran university in one of the suburbs of Milwaukee, and I had the privilege of becoming heavily involved with the writer’s group on campus. Unfortunately, our school’s lit mag was embarrassingly poorly produced. So my sophomore year, I decided to take the reins and turn it into something nice. Nobody objected … why would they? So here I was, rockin’ the publishing process at school, which was (don’t forget) a fairly conservative Lutheran university. That meant that a lot of the poems we wanted to place in the journal were Big-Brother’d out, which was understandable. I could respect that. But at the same time, it left me with a hint of rebellion in my heart.
By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to do something of my own – something that wouldn’t be incessantly censored; something that I could control and be the one to give the final Yay or Nay. So by early 2000, I was rollin’ along at a snail’s pace, even though I was more jazzed than I’d ever been before creatively. I wanted to go, go, go! BUT. I didn’t want to just jump right in. Presentation meant a lot to me. I knew I wanted my publications to look good and contain top shelf content.
Enter my career.
I found employment as a writer for a design firm, which gave me access to a slew of tremendous assets. Designers I worked with. Printer reps. Paper reps. All of whom I networked like mad and found some really great, genuine people with whom I developed some strong relationships. Since my knowledge of “how” to put a book together was rudimentary at best, I employed the help of some of the designers I worked with. Then, the firm I worked for hired a woman who not only possessed the ability to elevate design to an art form, she seemed designed herself by the Supreme Artist of artists. Yeah. She was the greatest thing to ever happen to my life. Her name’s Deborah. We were married in 2004 and have been creating books together since early 2002. And I’ll tell you this honestly, for as much as I know about poetry and the small press and all the wonderful writers I'm friends with and know, I’d have been able to do nothing without her.
What exactly does Centennial Press look for? What makes it unique?
I’ve always said, “I don’t want poetry that kisses my ass, I want poetry that kicks it.” Our tagline is Heavy Artillery for the Underdog Writer. What do I look for? Anything with punch. It could be a love poem, a haiku, an epic ballad, a novel. I don’t care. If it’s good, I’ll publish it.
The small press is inundated with writers just salivating over the notion that they – and no one else – they will become the next Charles Bukowski. And that’s fine, dreams are fine. But none of their work is real. It’s all facsimile. It’s all boozin’, and bettin’, and whorin’ … and you know what? Those topics have all been exhausted. None of their stuff is real. And that’s the problem with the small press today: the apotheosis of Henry Charles Bukowski. But he died in 1994. Let him rest. Give me something real! And how about something with hope? So many poets today do nothing but bitch all the time, whether about the war, or the economy, or the price of oil, or the state of welfare, yadda yadda. And that’s all understandable and I still publish a good deal of that kind of work. But what’s rare – and I think all the more powerful because of its rarity – is a poem that exudes hope. A poem that praises rather than pulls down. A poem that reveals even the slightest sliver of magic in this world. Because for all its faults and horrors and dregs … this is a magical place we live in. So that’s what I look for.
What makes us unique? I suppose it would be our approach to presentation. We put a lot of care and love into the pieces we publish.
Tell me about Anthills. What is it, and what is it all about?
Anthills is the literary journal we publish. We’ve only done four of them, which is a shame, because collections with work by multiple poets are a tad more marketable, and not only that, but they grant the potential for a greater diversity and range of content within the piece than, say, a chapbook would. But I’m excited to say I’ve begun work on the fifth and sixth issues of Anthills, because I’ve just got too much material now for merely one. Submissions are always open, so if there are any readers out there right now wondering if you can still send stuff in, the answer is absolutely. The problem is, Anthills is published infrequently (and that’s sort of an understatement). So people who submit sometimes feel their work falls into a black hole from which it’ll never escape. But that’s not true. It may take me longer to get back to you than it would another publisher, but the wait (I hope!) is always worth it. Like I said, we put a lot of care into our books.
The other thing about Anthills is that we change format with each one. I’m kind of a McSweeney’s junky, and Dave Eggers has always been a huge inspiration of mine. He told me once when he came through Milwaukee, while touring What Is The What that he wants to be the first publisher to figure out how to incorporate glass into the publication of a book. Well, I don’t know if I have the means or the ingenuity, but I’ve made it my mission to beat him to it. Anyway, one issue was a collection of separate individual broadsides that fit into a slipcase; another was a broadsheet (poster on one side, poetry on the other) that folded down into a nice small 5x5” square. I know I want to do a miniature issue of Anthills. I want to do one that incorporates photography and artwork and fits into a box. I’ve got all sorts of ideas. The problem (as always) is time and dime. Everything we do comes directly out of pocket. And somehow, I’ve usually been lucky enough to break even. But I realize there’s no money in poetry. That’s not why we do it. Still, it really is a business. And if you want to be successful – and by “successful,” I mean to possess the ability to continue publishing books – then you have to treat it as a business. That’s another reason I’m so blessed to have my wife … she handles the business aspect of what we do.
Is there a Centennial Press publication you're most proud of?
That’s a tough one, because I really am so proud of all my books. They’re like children to me, you know? I’m a writer myself, and sometimes I’ll feel a certain ownership of a book of somebody else’s work just because I spent so much time with it and love it as if it were my own. I’ll tell you this, too … everything I publish is work I wish I’d written myself. That’s another good gauge of how to tell something is hot or not. But I’ll answer your question, so long as it’s okay that I cheat a little:
Design-wise, I’d have to say hands down, The System by A.D. Winans. It’s a little perfect-bound book designed to convey a sense of imprisonment. Winans worked with the late great Jack Micheline in Folsom and San Quentin giving writing workshops to prisoners. So the book is supposed to make you feel a sense of claustrophobia … and perhaps even the feeling that the book itself was pieced together inside the walls of a prison using whatever materials the prisoners had access to. It’s very raw and very real. That thumbprint on the book’s cover is my wife’s, which is suiting because her thumbprint (metaphorically speaking) is on everything we do. I really do believe she’s a genius.
Poetry-wise, it’s a tie between B.J. Best’s Mead Lake, This and Alex Carlson’s Whispering Winds, the Record Player Reads. Alex is one of the best poets of the unknown variety, and also one of the guys I originally started Centennial Press to publish. B.J. Best … I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that he’s one of the most phenomenal voices in American letters working today. I have had the honor of publishing two of his smaller books (a third is on its way later this year), but he’s got several bigger book-size manuscripts floating around out there in the ether just waiting to be snagged up by any editor worth his weight in words. I’m telling you, I cannot for the life of me figure out why he hasn’t found the right fit with anyone yet, because his manuscripts are brilliant – I’ve read them all. I will champion his work till the day I die, and since I hope to live a long happy life, I have nothing but lauding to look forward to. He deserves it. And if you’re the editor of a major press and you are reading this right now with a copy of one of his MSS in your office … do yourself a favor and accept! Accept! Accept! He’s the next big thing waiting to happen.
Overall, however, I’m most proud of Words For Songs Never Written, New and Selected Poems by William Taylor Jr. He’s one of the most beloved poets in the small press and this book was four years in the making. I like to say it’s my attempt at legitimacy (“Hey, Ma, look! It’s got a barcode!”). William, Deb, and I spent four years working on this thing. And the reason for that is because I needed about that much time just to save enough money to publish the thing. Because I knew I wanted to do it right. His words are so good they deserved a proper home. I think we finally gave that to him.
What are you reading now?
Back when Michael Chabon still maintained a website, he had this little list of books under the heading, “The Promiscuous Reader,” that listed all the books he was reading at once. And for the first time since college, I’m attempting to do just that (I don’t know how well it’s working). I just finished DeLillo’s The Body Artist for the third time, possibly the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. I’m reading Chabon’s new book from McSweeney’s, Maps and Legends, Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the poetry of Dean Young and James Wright. I’m really looking forward to reading Mark Sarvas’s Harry, Revised. And, of course, submissions to Anthills 5 and 6.
What's on Centennial Press's horizon?
Nothin’ but blue skies and copious bills from various printers. Actually, in addition to Anthills, we’ve got a small collection coming out very soon called Poems As Pickup Lines – 12-15 business card-size broadsides that contain a poem on one side and an abstract image on the other. The idea is, you can carry them around with you in your wallet or purse or whatever, and instead of using some cheesy line on somebody in a bar (or library, say), you can hand them one of these poems. The collection contains poems from both women and men, and if you set them up face-down in a certain way, the backs of the broadsides come together to form a pretty slick urban-style image … an abstract visualization of a bar scene. Also …
An Inventory of Lost Things by Karla Huston – A collection of poems by a woman whose words are treasure maps to places you never thought you’d find again. Hollows inside your heart believed gone forever. Well, whatever you’ve lost can be found here in this book. So many things … begging to be discovered.
Shogun Ladybug by gc fogle – This very first (and long-awaited) chapbook details the crazy adventures of fogle, former snake charmer, current unemployed poet, and full-time fish-out-of-water as he moves into a ramshackle apartment in downtown Milwaukee. Surrounded by wacky neighbors, precocious children, and a magical wisecracking aphid. The zaniness starts when fogle finds 35 pounds of frozen ladybugs in his refrigerator, and one can only imagine what might ensue. It’s Mark Danielewski meets Honoré de Balzac meets When Harry Met Sally.
Finally, there’s Drag: 20 Short Poems About Smoking by B.J. Best – This small chapbook is as delightful as a post-coital draw … as fanciful as dragon char … as real as the butts by which you count off your days. Read it, and you might just catch a buzz by osmosis. This might be the only chapbook in the history of man to come with a warning by the Surgeon General.
While listening to Kate Jackson talking about her book about snakes, and her account of a bite from a cobra that nearly killed her, all I could think about was my bug loving little sister, who was stung by a large scorpion in the desert, threw a pack of frozen peas on the wound, drove to the hospital, but decided to stop for pizza on the way. She and Kate Jackson would get along, I think.
Luc Sante has a serious book problem. He has my sympathy -- and I'm sure the sympathy of the used bookstore worker, intern, mailman, FedEx guy, UPS driver, and friends who bring books to my apartment and take them away.
Paris Review has put Elizabeth Gilbert's short story "The Famous Torn and Restored Lit Cigarette Trick" online.