Monday, March 29, 2010

A Warning from Dr. Nathan Louis

Though I’m a great, if reluctant, admirer of Crust, I feel it’s my duty to inform its potential readers of my recent research at the University of Alabama Institute of Neuro-Otolaryngology, where I’ve been a visiting professor since 2008. As Lawrence Shainberg makes clear, it’s long been understood that the pleasure and frequency of Nasalism is inversely proportional to the picker’s level of self consciousness at the moment of initial impulse and investigation. Despite the fact that I am a lifelong Nasalist, I was not aware of this unfortunate equation until I read Crust myself and noted, as have so many (see,, or for that matter, any of the 3234 other AntiNasalist sites which, according to, focus on the dangers of Nasalism), the book’s disastrous effects on a habit which has long been my most dependable source of happiness and tranquility. I’m sure I share with many Nasalists the grief and anger one feels at such loss, but as a neuroscientist, I believe I was the first to realize that such effects are part of a reversible equation which could help us understand the mystery of self consciousness which, as all neuroscientists know, is one of the most important and elusive functions of the brain. We have suspected since 2007 that the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) is the neurochemical root of self consciousness, but thanks to Nasalism and Crust, I believe I am the first to confirm the hypothesis. Here at Alabama, working on a grant from the NIH, I have found clear evidence that Nasalists who’ve read Crust show significantly more activity and a greater number of synapses in the VLPFC than those who haven’t. Furthermore, my data has been confirmed by Dr. Elwood Baskin, our chief Otolaryngologist, who has shown a similar parallel between VLPFC metabolism and nasal activity, eg, the quantity and quality of secretion and the size and liquidity of crusts it produces.

As a neuroscientist, I am obligated of course to state again that my research remains incomplete and controversial, but as a Nasalist, I have no doubt that, even at this stage, it requires me to warn all Nasalists to avoid books like Crust and all other information about their habit. The message coming out of my laboratory is clear and unequivocal: if picking matters, don’t think about it.

Broken Embraces

Ambivalent or enigmatic paternity is one of the themes of Pedro Almodovar’s recently released Broken Embraces, as is the question of artistic patrimony. The provenance of the cinema-obsessed, fledgling filmmaker who lingers at the periphery of Broken Embraces is British director Michael Powell’s classic meditation on voyeurism, Peeping Tom. In his famed essay, “Contre Sainte-Beuve,” Proust criticized the autobiographical interpretation of art. Is the character of the abandoned son of a wealthy industrialist, who inadvertently films the scene of his father’s mistress’s infidelity and death, a stand-in for Almodovar, a voyeur at the scene of an accident?
Broken Embraces opens with another filmmaker, the blinded protagonist Harry Caine, unable to visually identify the woman he is possibly impregnating, and ends with him gaining paternity of a child he never knew was his.

Wordsworth famously wrote, “The child is father of the man.” But who is the father of the father? Are the claims of the flesh in fact too weak to take precedence over history, or, in the case of Almodovar, film history? Is the Oedipus complex irrelevant to Almodovar’s cinematic universe? Harry Caine steals the mistress of a powerful producer; he is blinded like Oedipus, and yet he goes on to live and thrive as an artist.

Art, rather than passion, is ultimately Almodovar’s lingua franca in Broken Embraces. One of the great transgressions of the movie is an act of vengeance by Harry’s longtime editor, who mutilates his art in a jealous rage. Substitute edit for castrate. The esthetic world that Almodovar creates situates its major rivalry in the act of creation. The real father of Broken Embraces is Bergman, whose Fanny and Alexander makes a cameo appearance as a reminder of the filmmaker’s patrimony.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's a Jungle Out There.

I wrote this piece that appeared on The Rumpus about sort of confronting e-books as a publisher. I say "sort of confronting" because my "confrontation" as well as my interaction with e-books thus far has been entirely passive, and I still don't necessarily know what to think about them.

Still, I find it remarkable that with all the hoopla and the prospect of gobbling up a new gadget, the only people (I'm counting friends and family-members, not publishing industry-friends) I know that own an e-reader are my exceptionally active and travel-prone in-laws.

Generally, I don't think that e-books are a bad thing, nor do I think that they compete with print books. In the grand scheme of things, I find myself subscribing to the school of thought laid out by the new owner of the Harvard Bookstore, Jeff Mayersohn. In a piece on the Huffington Post, after discussing the print-on-demand Espresso book machine his store recently bought, he very incisively and wisely closes by saying:

"If the physical book survives, the model of centralized production and long-haul distribution is obsolete. The corporate book hawkers are doomed and they know it - unless they can convince you that the physical book is the dinosaur and not they."

Which is a much more convincing and honest reaction than any I've heard on the e-book debate. I think it also goes quite a long way toward underlining the prospects for the future of book publishing's "three-hundred pound gorilla," Amazon.

What is the future of Amazon? As the print-on-demand Espresso book machine circulates and becomes more accessible, it seems that if Amazon doesn't offer an option where shoppers can pick up their orders the same day as their order is placed then they will become obsolete. (Which itself is a silly thought, bringing us back to where we started, shopping from our neighbor's store.)
To me, it appears as though by offering e-books Amazon has begun re-branding themselves as a tech company rather than a retailer. By setting the standard cost of e-books at $9.99, they've also devalued their base product considerably.

I'd say Amazon's future is pretty bleak, and they have to know it, which is why they're placing such a bloated emphasis on e-books.


I didn't set out to write all this.

My point was to say that beginning in April, we will begin making a couple of our titles available as e-books: Some Things That Meant the World to Me, by Joshua Mohr; The Drop Edge of Yonder, by Rudolph Wurlitzer; and I Smile Back, by Amy Koppelman.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dear Nicholas Sparks: let’s have a fistfight, you douche!

Maybe I’m enjoying the meat of low hanging fruit here. But this Nicholas Sparks guy—the “auteur” who brought us such thought provoking hits as “Nights in Rodanthe”, “The Notebook”, and “Message in a Bottle” has a recent piece in USA today where he a) compares himself to Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Hemingway b) slams Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian” as “pulpy" and "overwrought” c) did I mention he compares himself to Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Hemingway?

Then the twat has the gall to say this about himself: “There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do.”

I’m not making this up. He’s absolutely, fantastically this ridiculous. And if you hate yourself/ want to watch your heart rate hit mach speeds, you can read the whole insipid article here.

By the way, maybe a few of you want to give him the benefit of the doubt… maybe Sparks is joking, right? Is that what you’re hoping for? Nah, here’s what he says while holding a Hemingway novel and musing about the merits of HIS OWN WORK: “A Farewell to Arms… Good stuff. That's what I write.”

Not to sound too Dr. Seuss, but I want to fight him; I want to bite him. I’ll throw a haymaker at his nose, then kick his kidneys as he moans. I will box his ears so hard, they’ll ring for weeks with disregard. I can kick his ass all day; all in the name of Hemingway. Let’s tussle soon, you and me; before you write another thing.

Someone has to sock Sophocles Sparks in the chops, and it just so happens I’ve got bail money set aside...

[This post originally appeared at the Some Things That Meant the World to Me blog, that of Joshua Mohr.]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Music Concert & Social to Benefit Literacy

Lauren Cerand, LCERAND[at] or 917.533.0103

Featuring Japanther and Care Bears on Fire in Support of Girls Write Now

NEW YORK, MARCH 17 – Two Dollar Radio today announced "Wrrrock On," an evening to benefit Girls Write Now happening Tuesday, May 25th at Galapagos Art Space, located at 16 Main Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn, from 7-9PM. Admission is a suggested donation of $2-22 at the door, with 100% of those proceeds going directly to Girls Write Now. Japanther and Care Bears on Fire will perform, and Joshua Mohr will emcee the event. Wrrrrock On is made possible by the support of Chin Music Press, Coffee House Press, Exterminating Angel Press, Featherproof Books, Seven Stories Press, Small Beer Press, Tin House and Unbridled Books.

Described as a "Performance Galaxy" by Vanity Fair and "Super hard, incredibly fast and overall inspiring" by Thrasher, Japanther has always been a band apart, running the gamut from performance art to punk rock and back again. The story behind Rock ‘n’ Roll Ice Cream (Menlo Park Recordings) is an adventure tale of exploring harmonies, writing together, and a little bit of that West Coast surf vibe whilst lurking a bit towards Japanther’s salad days in Brooklyn to draw on pop hooks and simple drum parts that make skating seem easier and bikes move faster. Japanther is a party band that brings much more to the show.

Featured in The New York Times for their "furiously energetic playing" and "similar verve" to The Runaways, in Teen Vogue for "tearing it up" and – as The OC Register needlessly notes, "way cooler than most of us were at that age" – Sophie (lead vocals, guitarist), Izzy (drummer) and Jena (bass) are Care Bears On Fire. The band are regulars on the New York and festival scene (SXSW, Lollapalooza), not to mention "Late Show with David Letterman," winning over jaded hipsters of all ages with songs that capture the experience of being a kid with attitude and humor. Care Bears on Fire are punk meets garage, straight out of a Brooklyn basement: "Nanananananana, I don’t want to be like everybody else!"

Joshua Mohr is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle bestselling novel and one of O, The Oprah Magazine’s ‘10 Terrific Reads of 2009,’ Some Things That Meant the World To Me, and the forthcoming Termite Parade, both on Two Dollar Radio. He lives in San Francisco and teaches writing.

Girls Write Now (GWN), the first and only East Coast nonprofit to combine mentoring and writing instruction within the context of all-girl programming, has, since 1998, helped nearly 3,000 underserved or at-risk girls from NYC’s public high schools develop into the next generation of writers and readers. In recent years, GWN has been profiled in The New York Times and featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. In November, the organization received a 2009 Coming Up Taller Award from First Lady Michelle Obama and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, distinguishing Girls Write Now as one of the top 15 after-school arts and humanities programs in the nation.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Letter from the Editor

I don't really enjoy doing our gritty web-design work. I tend to let it stack up for a couple of weeks and then devote an entire afternoon to updating everything. One of the items that Eliza has been on me to add is a mention of the fact that each of the books included in our subscription packages come with a 'Letter from the Editor.' This letter could explain how we came to be introduced to the author, a history as a reader with the author's work, or just a general appreciation for the book.
One of the great distinctions for an independent publisher is the opportunity to interact directly with readers. Our idea as a press from the very beginning was to be inclusive and honest about who we were. (Someone had suggested once that we find an intern just to answer the phone and say we were busy, which is laughable to think back on now.) The intent of these letters was to include our subscribers, to allow them entry into the process of publishing.
Here is one example of the Letter from the Editor for Nog by Rudolph Wurlitzer, which we published in August 2009 (but which subscribers received when the book arrived from the printer in May '09):

"My first meeting with Rudy Wurlitzer was in a townhouse in the East Village. Two Dollar Radio was operating out of a cluttered loft in Bedford Stuyvesant, and Rudy was in town for a few days from Hudson, NY. Having no great suggestions for where we could sit down and chat about the prospect of publishing The Drop Edge of Yonder, he suggested we find a quiet room at the house where he was staying. The house turned out to belong to Philip Glass, and the entire time that we were speaking, Glass was plugging away at his piano in the room directly above where we spoke. It was surreal, and when I left I knew that something had happened that I would remember for the rest of my life.
"I loved the title Nog. And the blurbs and reviews that the book received at the time of its original publishing placed a profound level of significance on the work that would gradually be forgotten or eclipsed as time passed by all but an underground group of worshippers that rallied to the book, recommending it to friends, starting Facebook fan pages, and writing blog entries. It is an important book. As Pynchon said in his blurb, “very important in an evolutionary way,” and I’ve found Wurlitzer’s following novels, Flats and Quake (which we’ll be reissuing this fall), to be strangely prescient, especially in the wake of our modern natural catastrophes and instinctive human reactions to these.
"Wurlitzer is authentic. He is one of the few American artists that have traveled the highways and byways between literature and Hollywood frequently while remaining true to both his voice and his vision. It is our mission by reissuing his earlier novels to gain him the respect and the attention that we feel he deserves. He is, as Library Journal so aptly put it, “a major American writer.”"

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Most Downloaded Image in History

by Lawrence Shainberg

With rare exceptions of someone like WG Sebald, novelists don’t tend to think about illustration, but since Crust has always been a mock-dock in my view I decided early-on to add this dimension to the book. Fortunately, my good friend, Michael Flanagan, a painter and novelist who was once a book-designer, is also a fan of the novel, so he was enthusiastic to assist me.

Most of the illustrations I wanted -- portraits of major characters, brain scan images, historical and anthropological images, etc -- weren’t terribly difficult to develop. Anyone who knows his way around Google and PhotoShop could produce the sort of images needed to substantiate a novel which is explicitly about nosepicking and implicitly -- since this forbidden habit becomes a media sensation as well as an endless source of scientific, medical, theological and philosophical research and controversy -- about the terrifying world of information overload. One image however eluded us. George W. Bush is a close friend of the narrator who in the early stages of the book admits to being a passionate nose-picker. More important, his admission, which occurs (in one of our best illustrations) on Larry King Live, has cured him of a paralyzing depression which put him in a mental hospital when he left office in 2008. Needless to say, Bush is no ordinary picker. His public -- and much publicized -- embrace of the habit sends him on a complex paradoxical journey which has him -- publicly, of course -- embracing it, rejecting it and embracing it again, and finally, blaming it for his failures as a president. “Tell me how a man who can’t stand a moment’s discomfort in his nose is gonna deal with hurricanes or terrorists or global warming?” Finally, unable to resolve his dilemma, he leaves home and family and vanishes from public life. His disappearance produces a flood of rumor on blogs, websites and the whole spectrum of Internet news. There are reports of him working on a farm in Iraq, living with Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, hospitalized with depression, dead by suicide, and kidnapped off his Texas ranch by “terrorists of unknown nationality.” Most of these tales, of course, are accompanied by photographs, video streams, or personal accounts which claim to verify them. The last, shows him sitting with hands tied in a straight-backed metal chair, guarded by two men or women wearing masks, one of them armed with a submachine gun, the other with a pistol, was the one I wanted to illustrate.

Michael and I tried at first to fabricate the image but eventually we realized we had to create it ourselves. My wife is a good photographer; my office has a white wall for a back-drop; Michael and I in ski-masks could do a fair approximation of terrorists; and the doorman in our building, a stocky spirited fellow named Julio who shares my opinion of Bush, was more than happy to impersonate him. All in all, it seemed like a morning’s work at most.

I called my film-director nephew, Steve Shainberg (Secretary, Fur), and asked him to put me in touch with a prop-person who could help me obtain the guns. As it happened, the woman he recommended was busy on a film, but she suggested I call a source she used -- Kaufman’s Army-Navy store, on 42nd St in New York City. The prop-man at Kaufman’s was a guy named Jim. I told him I needed to rent “some equipment for a photo shoot.”

“Like what?” he said.

“A machine gun and a pistol.”

“Not in our store,” he snapped.

If I’d been less naive about such matters, his voice alone would have warned me off, but when he asked for my email address -- “in case I think of something” -- I gave it to him. It was only later, when I told my wife about the conversation, that I began to think I’d been less than smart to be so forthcoming.

She’s not inclined to overreact but her eyes spread with disbelief. “A guy calls and wants to rent a machine gun? I’d say his next call is to the police. For all we know, our phones are tapped already! The building is surrounded! But don’t worry. You can always explain when they arrest you that this is for a couple of terrorists who want to kidnap George W. Bush.”

As it happened, however, her reaction was off the mark. When I called Jim the next day to ward him off, he apologized to me before I could him. “Sorry I couldn’t come up with somebody right away. As soon as I got off the phone, I remembered the guy who can help you.”

He gave me a number in Soho. Weapons Specialists, on Grand Street. On the phone, they were discouraging at first, explaining that real guns require police permits and a handler to go with them. With its handler, a single machine gun would set me back $1200 a day. I was about to sign off and look toward Google again for my illustration when he added, “On the other hand, we’ve got replicas. A machine gun will cost you about $150. Pistol, $50 to $75.”

Weapons Specialists is a two-floor business, its basement a huge spread containing guns and ammo belts and holsters and swords and suits of armor from any age in history and anywhere in the world. Some of the guns were made of rubber, some of metal, and many were real, with firing pins removed. The replicas were convincing enough for any sort of robbery. As a matter of fact, the salesman who helped me explained that Spike Lee had used the same guns I rented in his last film, when bank robbers actually acknowledged that the weapons they used were dummies.

Thus it was that two days after forsaking the Internet I returned from Soho with a long black case containing a machine gun and a pistol. Michael and I donned ski masks, Julio sat in a metal chair for the photograph, and later that day, his head was replaced, courtesy of Google, with George W. Bush’s. Check it out in Crust. As the narrator reports, “No YouTube image has been viewed, downloaded, or emailed more often.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

real people

As you may have surmised, while my novel is entirely fictional, it does invoke a number of “real life” celebrities from various art worlds, both highbrow and lowbrow. For a little while, I thought it would be interesting to contact some of these “real” people and give them an opportunity to deny any association with my fictional characters. I thought this might help my readers distinguish between fiction and reality.

The first person I approached was the philosopher Slavoj Žižek. I went to a talk he gave a few months ago at Cooper Union. The talk ended kind of abruptly because there was a bomb threat, but Žižek was gracious enough to stick around for a bit to sign copies of his book. I stood in line, but when I reached the front, instead of getting his autograph, I handed him a copy of my manuscript and said, “I wrote a novel and you’re a character in it.” He seemed kind of taken aback. He said, “Oh no, what, am I like that Jim Carrey character in ‘Dumb and Dumber’?”

I had inserted a brief note in the ms with my email address. I suggested that he might want to make a formal statement denying any actual association with my fictional characters. I’m afraid he didn’t write me back. I followed up with a message to his website. I thought he might want to say, “Santutxo Etxeberria is a figment of Barbara Browning’s imagination. He was never a guest at a dinner party attended by me, Analia Hounie and Gayatri Spivak. Furthermore, Cameron Diaz does seem like an interesting person. Why is this treated as a comical assertion?”

Again, he didn’t respond.

Then I thought maybe I should just pilfer some material from real interviews that were already a part of the public record. I thought maybe I could just cite them as though the celebrities were talking about my characters, but I could footnote the original sources so that any curious reader with an internet connection would quickly discover that they’d actually been talking about other things.

I ran this by a lawyer friend. Since I already mentioned that “Lacanian lawyer,” you may think I know a lot of people in the legal profession. In fact, I don’t. But I’m starting to find that lawyers can be pretty interesting people (who knew?). One of them told me I needed to worry about “rights of publicity,” which is basically exploiting somebody else’s celebrity status for your own personal gain.

I wrote one of the big shots in this legal field. I said I was thinking about trying to use a blurb from Björk that was pilfered from some random e-mail interview she’d done for the Brooklyn Rail (“i always feel i say too much...”), and maybe another from Mikhail Baryshnikov on Larry King (“Next question.”) – as though they were trying to be discreet about the identity of Vivian’s lovers. I said, “Are they likely to sue me?” He said a lawyer could really only prudently respond that anybody could sue you... He did, however, think it was an interesting idea... But very possibly actionable.

I gave it one last shot. I sent the manuscript to Laurie Anderson. She was so nice! She wrote back right away! She thought the book looked “cool”! But she declined to give me a blurb denying any association with Binh...

Binh wasn’t surprised. He said, “Laurie is a very sweet girl...”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Two Dollar Radio Shirts Make Your Nose Not Bleed at High Altitudes.

Because people are quite generally rad, we've gotten a really quality recent crop of model pictures from exotic locales.

People in Costa Rica, Peru, and on our tee page on mountains in Vermont defying nose-bleeds!!!

I love it.

Ponytail Live in Berlin

Binh was at this show. He never, however, made a music video for Ponytail. Also, anything you may have heard about a "slumber party" with the Vivian Girls is just gossip. But the story about the "playdate" with the couple he met at the UdK was true.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Lacanian Love Story

I was recently introduced to a woman who was described to me as a “Lacanian lawyer.” I thought that was funny! She turned out to be charming and very interesting. Her area of expertise is art law. She writes about “moral rights,” a branch of the law which basically says that if you are an artist and I buy a painting you made, I’m not allowed to draw a moustache on it, even though I “own” it. I’m not supposed to compromise your artistic vision.

I found this appalling! The Lacanian lawyer was also concerned. We bonded over our mutual powerful reaction to those doodles that the Chapman brothers did all over that set of Goya etchings.

I mention this because Binh and I also discussed the Chapman brothers. He has some pretty unpredictable views on the topic of intellectual property. I am basically a communist, so I have my doubts about property in general, but Binh is a little more concerned about controlling his product. This may just be because I am something of a charlatan, while he’s what you might call an artist of genius.

Goya, needless to say, was an artist of genius. Still, or maybe because of this, I find this doodle by the Chapman brothers profoundly moving.

By the way, when I’m asked to describe my novel in a phrase, I sometimes say it’s a “Lacanian love story.” I think this is about as funny as a “Lacanian lawyer.”

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Here’s a short video by Binh. He filmed it on his cell phone. He says he particularly likes the sound, although he has no recollection of the worm making this much noise:

Monday, March 08, 2010

An Arty Berlin Theme Hotel

I am thrilled that my novel, The Correspondence Artist, will be coming out with Two Dollar Radio. When Eric asked me if I would blog a bit about my book, I thought it might be interesting to give potential readers a little background information about my characters – specifically, the four fictional manifestations of “the paramour,” the narrator’s celebrity lover whose “true” identity must remain undisclosed.

I’m dedicating this week to items relating to Duong Van Binh, the twenty-something digital art star currently living in Berlin.

My narrator, Vivian, first met Binh in the lobby of an arty theme hotel there called Propeller Island City Lodge. It’s run by Binh’s friend, Lars Stroschen. Lars also has a record label (experimental electronic).

That first encounter between Vivian and Binh is a little disorienting. There’s a weird confrontation with Binh’s jealous ex involving Coca-Cola and violence. Vivian’s confusion on that trip is only augmented by the fact that she’s staying in the “Upside Down Room”:

Still, despite my narrator’s awkward experience, I wouldn’t dissuade you from staying at Propeller Island. In fact, you may want to check out a couple of the other rooms:

The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon has already been exterminated, exfoliated and hermaneuticized, and will undoubtedly be the subject of numerous PhD theses. But let’s cut to the chase. The film’s historical context, the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarejevo, immediately forces the viewer to pluck out his or her retrospectroscope. Should the viewer call to mind Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which throws cold water on the banality-of-evil theory invoked by Hannah Arendt in Eichman in Jerusalem, or turn to Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power to understand the impending sense of doom and horror that grows amidst Haneke’s astonishing, unflinchingly beautiful set pieces? Christian Berger’s cinematography owes more to Zeno and Parmenides of the Eleatic School of pre-Socratic philosophy than to film-school technique, as his black and white shots strive towards a prison-like stasis. It is almost disturbing to detect motion in some of the compositions, which are interrupted by movements so discreet that we at first mistake them for trompe l’oeil.

Etiology and innocence are the themes that Haneke (The Piano Player, Caché) is playing with, and his mise en scène is virtually inextricable from the narration. The oppressive luminescence of sunlight on snow is one of the recurring images in this exploration of human sadism and childhood’s lack of innocence. The butchering of an already crippled bird, the torture of two children (one retarded), the tripping of a horse and rider, an adolescent put to sleep with his hands tied to preempt masturbation—these are just a few of the images woven into a tapestry of evil that becomes a work of great beauty. Evil beauty is not an oxymoron if we consider The Divine Comedy, or Nancy Milford’s book about Edna St. Vincent Millay, Savage Beauty. Emily Dickinson's memorable line, “Split the lark and you’ll find the music,” gives a hint what Haneke’s getting at, only in this case it’s the music that leads to a dead bird. One can’t help can’t help but think of Bergman’s Winter Light. Haneke’s stern pastor is a dead ringer for Gunnar Bjornstand, who plays a similar role in the Bergman film. The two cinematic personae are due for a tête a tête.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Our Authors are Effing Rad

In the future we plan to incorporate blog posts from our various authors, since it can become kind of stale (and redundant) reading (and writing) solely from one person's vantage. And what better source for additional perspectives than our very own authors?

Starting Monday, Barbara Browning, author of the forthcoming The Correspondence Artist (early 2011) will be guest-posting for the entire week.

Equally awesome on the awesome-thermometer, is that we asked some of our authors whether they'd be willing to model our line of tee shirts for our website. Below are some of their glamour shots (there are more to come!):

Xiaoda Xiao, author of The Cave Man and
The Visiting Suit: Stories From My Prison Life (Nov. '10).

Grace Krilanovich, author of The Orange Eats Creeps (Sept. '10).

Joshua Mohr, author of Some Things That Meant the World to Me
and Termite Parade (July '10).

Amy Koppelman, author of I Smile Back.

Francis Levy, author of Erotomania: A Romance.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Questions for John Martin

In 2007, while we were waiting for our new distribution contract with Consortium to take effect, I spent some time researching older presses and publishers because I found it both interesting and inspiring. I read about Noel Young of Capra Press "69ing" books by featuring an experienced author on one side and a debut writer on the opposite, which is where I got the idea to flip the two autonomous Wurlitzer novels Flats and Quake. Around this time I was also fortunate enough to meet Barney Rosset (twice!) and hold his Hedada Award (which was extremely heavy).

From my internet scrounging, Young appeared to be a part of a vibrant West Coast publishing scene that included City Lights and John Martin's Black Sparrow Press. Black Sparrow, to me, felt like a working-man's Grove Press. While the two don't necessarily feel comparable other than that to my impressionable mind, they were two of the vital independent presses of the mid-century that truly pushed literary culture forward. But where Grove seemed attracted to the spectacle of the obscenity trials and the opportunity to publish work that intentionally frayed nerves, Black Sparrow seemed to embody a more hard-nosed literary idealism.

I mailed John Martin a letter and he sent me an email in response. He was very encouraging, and said:

"There really is no sure-fire 'formula' for first establishing a publishing company and then making it successful. But you have to be smart enough and lucky enough to attract and choose authors whose books will actually sell. (Publishing only your friends or yourself will lead to disappointment.) Then there's the matter of sufficient capital. I started Black Sparrow in 1966 with a cushion of ca. $30K which both kept me in groceries for 2-3 years and also paid off the cost of the books as I published them. I also kept my day job. And by the time that money was gone Black Sparrow had begun to turn a tiny profit. Not to scare you off, but to start Black Sparrow again in 2007, and to publish the kind of literary books I was interested in, I think I'd need a cushion of at least $300,000 to pull it off. ($300,000 in today's money just about equals $30K in 1966 money.) At the same time hard work can overcome almost any obstacle and I wish you all the best!"

Martin had sold his collection of rare first-editions in order to strum up that initial $30K.

Over the past couple months I've been exchanging emails with Martin, with the intentions of interviewing him. I'm not certain it will pan out, thanks largely to scheduling and finding the time, but I did scribble down a number of questions that I would have liked to ask the man:

What was the atmosphere of the time like in the ‘60s when you decided to start publishing?

Was there some kind of specific impetus you can pinpoint?

Was it hard for you to part with the copies of your rare first-edition books?

Did you feel as though you were part of a community in Santa Barbara?

Your books have a very particular, intentional aesthetic – what was your inspiration?

I read in a previous interview you gave that a press from the ‘20s, Black Sun, was your guiding light so to speak – can you tell me about your attraction?

What was it that drew you to Bukowski initially?

You offered him a monthly advance to publish with you, which was part of your monthly salary at an office supply company?

Your meeting with Bukowski has been romanticized throughout the years – who were some of the other authors that you published who made an impression on you? Or make for a good story?

Thanks to your particular taste and publishing choices, you were envisioned as a champion of the undercurrent, the counterculture. What were a couple of books that you published that you feel exemplify this reputation, that you think maybe if you hadn’t taken them on they may not have been published?

Noel Young printed some of your books, as well as ran his own press. I’ve heard he was a character. What was your relationship like with him?

Did you have any relationship with Lawrence Ferlinghetti or Barney Rosset?

What was your reception like among New York City’s literary elite?

You’re well known for bringing the work of Paul Bowles back into print, and your correspondence is archived at the University of Delaware. What was your relationship like with him?

I’ve heard people say really complimentary things about Jane Bowles’ novel, Two Serious Ladies, which I see is now published by Ecco – was this one of those books you sold the rights to Ecco?

Were there any other authors whose work you tried to bring back into print but couldn’t for one reason or another, or someone else beat you to the punch?

Who were some of the contemporary presses who you considered allies or peers who may have drifted into obscurity now or ceased publishing altogether?

You operated through a period of encroachment from box stores on neighborhood bookstores – nowadays, these box stores are the ones struggling, with Barnes & Noble executives anticipating half of their mega-stores closing in the next year or so. What’s your take?

What do you make of all the fuss being made about e-readers and print-on-demand book machines? And of software like the “Vook”?

The last two years, the writer who has won the Nobel Prize has been published in the U.S. solely through university or independent presses before receiving the award – is this a recent trend? Does it surprise you?

Are there any contemporary writers you would have liked to publish?

A friend who is a publisher mentioned to me that he doesn’t read as many actual books as he used to, which is something I’ve begun to notice as well. Did you have a similar experience? Did you ever feel that you were missing out on contemporary literature, especially in the late ‘60s or ‘70s when there seemed to be a period of greater experimentation or risk in publishing?

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