Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Valentine to Dos

Dos as in “two,” a band of two basses consisting of Mike Watt (Minutemen) and Kira Roessler (Black Flag): two punk legends, former lovebirds, now just good friends. Bass friends. It’s a small music, origins stained with grief, and maybe a kind of romance too. Their “Intense Song for Madonna” will haunt you, crawl into the space behind your neck and hunker down there, panting softly.

End of 1985, Kira, trying to lure a despondent Watt out of his grief over friend and bandmate D. Boon’s death, suggested they simply play their basses. Just play, that’s all. Create some 4-track demos out of the loss. The first two releases, both on New Alliance records – 1986’s self-titled LP and 1989’s EP Numero Dos -- were nestled in the midst of Watt’s tenure with fIREHOSE. A second full-length, Justamente Tres (Kill Rock Stars), came later, in 1996. On each there are covers, instrumentals, ultra-minimal sketches and some fleshed out songs (a few later adapted for the full drum/bass/guitar/vox treatment by fIREHOSE). Ever wistful, evocative in its limited scope, Dos revisits a lonely terrain, lodged in a sentimental dream (a “Dream of San Pedro”). Kira brings the bounce and some buoyant, nearly over-enunciated vocal stylings. Watt brings the gravity. Always alluring apart, their two approaches mesh irresistibly.

The first time I saw Dos it was one of the first gigs after a long absence (Watt has several other bands all going at the same time). Kira was wearing a sarong with sea turtles on it. Since then I’ve seen them about 10 or 12 times, all in the Los Angeles area. You begin to learn the drill. Watt takes approx. 4 minutes to set up. He can be gruff if approached. Kira’s husband waits in the car with her little Bichon Frise after the gig. She often wraps her plucking hand to ease the lingering effects of an old injury from the Black Flag days, where -- not wanting to appear like a weakling (girl) sidelined by a torn tendon -- she played through it, sustaining permanent damage.

The more I see this band, in bars, Foreign Legion halls, clubs, coffee houses and dining establishments (they’re too low key to be anything but an opener), the more hypnotic their sound becomes. The simplicity of two basses in their unusual arrangements lures you into its thrall. Dos is more like a craft object than a band. A hand-stitched keepsake made of felt. Soft, you can pet it and it’s small enough to be yours alone.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Interview with Murph

In which we are given a rare opportunity to speak directly to one of the Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies!

We tracked him down, sitting crosslegged on a grass median next to some cops who were going to arrest him for walking up to a Taco Bell drive thru window. He managed to answer a couple questions about the new book he’s in, that he wasn’t actually aware of till I mentioned it and flashed a copy in front of his handcuffed little self. Here are his responses -- what little I could manage to pry loose in the few moments before the cops released him and he ran off into the night.

G: So what do you think of being immortalized in print?

M: Oh I’ve been immortalized already, it’s nothing. I wish I could read but my mind wanders. That’s why I prefer magazines, or Merit Bronze 100s.

G: How many cigarettes do you smoke in a day?

M: What do you mean by ‘day’? Like when the sun is up, or from when I wake up to when I go to sleep? These are hard things to tell. 8? 15? 20? 62? Do half cigs count? A lot I throw away when they go out ‘cause I flick them so hard in my fingers. Look at that one there, [points chin to the pavement in front of him] most people would light that thing right up again, but not me. The smell of wet cigs make me homesick like I’m gonna barf.

G: Did you get to eat your Chalupas? Did the cops take your bag away?

M: Naw man, I didn’t even get my frickin food! I don’t have a car. What are us jerks supposed to do when it’s late and the front part of the Taco Bell is closed?

G: Here’s some water. They told me to give it to you.

M: My shins hurt.

G: Murphee, let’s talk books. What’s the best thing you read recently?

M: Like, this year?

G: Sure.

M: That Natas spread in Thrasher is awesome. It’s from 1986, but it still seems new to me ‘cause I’ve never forgotten it. He’s an artiste. A shredder of the highest order. I read from the stack of MaximumRock'nRolls at the Free Clinic, but that’s just for my own personal amusement. I take a pen and cross out words till their reviews make sense. I laugh and laugh! Pieces of work. S.F. sucks.

[Nearby, a dog breaks its leash free from its owners grip and charges at Murph.]

M: Hey whoa whoa!

[He goes pale and tries to wriggle away. I try to block it with my leg as the owner runs up and yanks it back.]

G: Got it?

M: Jeez. [after a pause] I hate you!

G: What’s wrong with dogs?

M: I hate lack of boundaries! They’re still just animals! [turning to me, wild-eyed] So what else do you want to know? What kind of cars I like to sleep in? ‘Cause the answer is Fleetwood, Roadmaster, Cutlass. In that order.

G: How about that girl?

M: What girl?

G: The one you were with. The one with the shirtwaist dress and zip-up sweatshirt on under her apron?

M: Who? No clue man no clue.

[Murph stares at me, his eyebrows raised expectantly. I realize after a moment he’s working his hands around and around behind him in their shackles – watching for the cop who’ll walk up behind me to come unlock him.]

Best Creepies

Greetings. Welcome to a week of exciting developments, wild possibilities, and new beginnings. The Orange Eats Creeps is out and I couldn’t be happier with the end product. I’ve never seen a cuter book (and I’ve seen some cute books). Hats off to Eric and Eliza for their hard work and dedication to the cause!

This week we’ll be taking a journey through some of the thematic deer trails winding their way through the novel, expanding on some of the music/band motifs therein, raising a few questions, initiating a conversation with the cosmic bass player that resides within us all. Also, an OEC MadLib, and an exclusive interview with one of the Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies! Stay tuned.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Be Excited, Be Be Excited

Whenever I hear someone say "be excited" I get a mental-image of the Christopher McDonald infomericals from Requiem for a Dream.
Excitement is definitely building toward the release of Grace Krilanovich's debut novel, The Orange Eats Creeps.
Michael Berger at The Rumpus: "Needless to say I'm looking forward to reading The Orange Eats Creeps."
Blake Butler at HTML Giant: "Really excited for [The Orange Eats Creeps]. I kind of want to marry it for its description alone."
Michael Schaub at Bookslut: "I've had Grace Krilanovich's The Orange Eats Creeps on my to-be-read pile for a while now, but this interview with the young author just moved it to the top."
And Nicole Rudick at Comics Comics Magazine: "The book already sounded intriguing, but one that uses [Mat] Brinkman’s art—I’m sold."
Tobias Carroll at Vol. 1 Brooklyn reviewed the book yesterday: "[Krilanovich's] novel shares a disorienting quality with . . . Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain. And in the end, the most resonant pit-of-your-stomach dread doesn't come from a roadside killer or fangs poised above a neck. Instead, its a much simpler scene, something rooted in mundane indifference that brings this novel to its unexpectedly domestic and achingly painful conclusion."
This is just a friendly reminder that your opportunity to order the book in our August pre-sale for $10 is closing -- sale ends Tuesday, August 31.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Welcome, Emily Pullen

We met Emily Pullen at BEA in New York City in May 2009. She was friendly, encouraging, intelligent, self-effacing, and easy to talk to, and we've managed to stay in touch since then. She's contributed a piece to our blog on how the e-book trends may parallel the history of photography, and writes for places such as The Millions and Shelf Awareness, as well as the Skylight Books blog, so it's been fairly easy to track her thoughts on books and publishing over time.

We're really excited that Emily has agreed to work with us at Two Dollar Radio. Like the rest of us, she'll be wearing several hats but will be focusing on bookstore and library outreach, editing, print vs. e, and a couple significant company ventures we've yet to announce (more info coming soon).

She took some time to answer a few questions about herself after returning from her high school reunion.

Ed: How was your 10-year reunion?
EP: Unexpectedly, I realized that the year one graduated from high school is a pretty arbitrary marker of commonality these days. Most of the people I was closest to while I was in high school either were not in my class, didn’t attend my school, or were older than me. It’s interesting to see the vastly different things that people are doing, but after a couple of hours, I was done. So many people are married with kids and houses (and none of us are 30 yet). And that’s pretty far from where I am (or really want to be) at this point…

Ed: What are some good books you’ve read recently?
EP: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Room by Emma Donoghue
The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Nox by Anne Carson
AM/PM by Amelia Gray
Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

Ed: I remember seeing somewhere you talking up Asterios Polyp
EP: I’ve been reading graphic novels for about 3 years now, and I realized that what I love in prose, I also love in graphic novels and other mediums. Asterios Polyp conveys meaning and story and mood in so many different ways, and my favorite fiction does that as well. My favorite nonfiction books do that. My favorite art books do that. There is a sort of resonance, a feeling of concentric ripples influencing each other. Another graphic novel that does that is Jeff Lemire’s The Complete Essex County.

Ed: You work at Skylight Books. Can you tell us a fun bookstore story?
EP: My moment of crowning glory so far was the Infinite Summer + David Foster Wallace tribute that I organized last September. 100 people. Food. Games. Speeches. Celebrities. This feeling of solidarity, of having both accomplished something and gone through something together – both Infinite Jest and the loss of DFW. We played badminton in the bookstore (tennis might have been destructive). Actor John Krasinski read a monologue from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. People who finished got to sign our poster. I don’t know, it just felt like we had become, for a few hours, exactly what a bookstore should be: a community hub where diverse people with something in common share books, food and conversation. It was amazing.

Ed: You’re involved in the Emerging Leaders Council of the American Booksellers Association. All anyone reads about in the media are doom and gloom reports on book publishing. What’s a positive thing going on that you’ve seen from your vantage point as a bookseller?
EP: There’s nothing better than adversity to help create a feeling of solidarity among booksellers. Though I’ve been a booklover all my life, I’ve only been involved in the industry since 2004. So much change is happening right now, culturally. It is an utterly fascinating time to be alive. I think that the bookstores (and small publishers) who are most suited to survive are the ones that develop partnerships between seasoned booksellers who have been refining their craft for a long time and younger booksellers who can adapt and incorporate new technologies more nimbly. I never cease to be amazed at how many smart, passionate, and committed people are involved in books. Now, if only someone could actualize Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner and pass them out to booksellers…

Also, there’s a Bookrageous calendar coming out soon – book people from all parts of the business doing ridiculous things for the love of books. Of course I’m in it. No, I can’t tell you what I’m doing. (Ed: You can order it here.)

Ed: Could you give us a generic professional bio?

EP: I grew up in Iowa and attended Grinnell College. I completed a double major in English and Sociology, and graduated With Honors in both departments in 2004. Then, I went to Boston, hoping to get my foot in the door of the publishing industry. I landed in bookstores instead, first at Wordsworth Books in Harvard, and then at the newly opened Porter Square Books. Life brought me to Los Angeles and Skylight Books in 2006, where I’ve been ever since. I attended the ABA Winter Institute in Louisville in 2008, and amazing opportunities have come since. I joined the Emerging Leaders Council and was asked to be on the ABA’s Bookseller Advisory Committee. I thought about attending graduate school, but at this point, I feel I can learn more being smack dab in the middle of it. I love being able to talk about books with publishers, authors, customers, and booksellers at any time of day or night. Ah, that’s the life. Now, if only I still had time to read…

Monday, August 23, 2010

What do you think?

We're curious to hear what you think of what we've cooked up for the cover to Jay Neugeboren's forthcoming story collection (May '11).

Jay has a very refined, elegant touch with his writing, so we wanted the cover to convey that and also pop off the shelves and be kinda loud. Like a $2 radio.

So, please, feedback . . . Would you pick this book up?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Paris Journal VIII: Why French Women Don't Go to the Gym

Do Parisian women eat chocolate and tartes, pommes frites, brie oozing with fat, fois gras, canard (à l’orange or otherwise), bifteck au poivre, poulet rôti, épaule d’agneau, cuisses de grenouilles, escargots à la Bourguignonne, coquilles St. Jacques en sauce de crème, soupe à l’oignon au fromage, pain, beurre, café au lait, parfaits profondement plein de calories, petits fours, macarons, éclairs, Napoleons (naturellement), and more pomme frites avec mayonnaise? Do they never exercise or deprive themselves of a single meal, like American women, who eat the calorie-counter cottage cheese with melon and then go Spinning so they can have a big meal at the fancy local French restaurant named after a region of France like Brittany? Do the French have a more sexually liberated culture in which these same ageless women who never worry about indulging their appetites for food also guiltlessly indulge their appetites for romance, thereby liberating their partners to do the same? Does the average French person indulge in transgressive behavior for which there would be punishment in other cultures? Are the French freed from cancer and AIDS, can they drink infinite quantities of red wine without becoming alcoholics, can they smoke like chimneys without getting cancer? Are the French immortal?

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

Paris Jornal VII: Madam Ovary

There is a danger in running away to a beautiful place and pretending that you’re somebody else. Paris afflicts many Americans in this way, and before they know it they are groveling at the supremacy of a more melodious language, notoriously tasty food, and the legend of Gallic sexuality. The average American who doesn’t happen to be a French culture hero, like Jack Palance or Jean Seberg, Henry Miller or Jerry Lewis, suffers from an inferiority complex when it comes to French society, a fact that makes the notion of a vacation in France a dubious enterprise. Paris is still filled with couples who kiss fervently in public, which only drives the nail into the coffin for the typical self-hating American couple, conspicuously consuming pragmatists who, knowing of no better way to achieve status than to flash aging packets of devalued American Express travelers checks, find themselves reduced to psychobabble as they attempt to analyze each other’s shortcomings on the corner of the Boulevards St. Michel and St. Germain, only steps from cafés like Les Deux Magots, which are no longer haunted even by the ghosts of De Beauvoir or Sartre. The tendency to speak in Franglais, a polymorphically perverse tongue in which sophistication is attained by inserting French expressions like faute de mieux into otherwise normal English sentences—a bit like using strap-ons and sex toys in place of living sexual organs—is another symptom that appears among those unfortunate couples who suffer from extreme cases of Francophilia.

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

Paris Journal VI: Paul Klee

In 1939, the last year of his life, the Swiss born painter Paul Klee produced 1,200 works. 17 of Klee’s works were shown in the Nazi’s “Degenerate Art” show of 1937, and with the Nazi’s at the height of their power, Klee was forced to leave Germany, where he’d joined the faculty of Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus school in l921. Previously, he’d been influenced by Der Blaue Reiter group, of which Kandinsky was a member. Der Blaue Reiter, which Klee joined in l913, emphasized the expressive power of color. The current show at the Musée de l’Orangerie describes Klee as “a complex character who combined ‘primitive’ lyricism with a passion for systems.” In l920, Klee wrote in his Credo, “Now the relativity of visible things is made clear…” The world Klee would invent represented a dialectic between the opposing forces of color and geometry, underlined by the vector-like arrows that are a constant presence in his work. Having fled Germany, Klee also had to contend with a serious autoimmune illness, scleroderma, during his last year Yet these later works are some of the most powerful in the show, which was taken from the collection of Ernst Beyeler. The color is vivid and the use of line even more forceful, distilled and even ominous in these pieces. Klee illustrated Voltaire’s Candide in l911, but after he translated Robert Delaunay’s 1912 essay, Light, he commented that color had opened up a new world to him. However abstract these last works are, illness and exile give them the immediacy of the social commentary that initiated Klee’s career.

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

Paris Journal V: The Shop on Main Street

On the Boulevard de Sébastopol in the second arrondissement of Paris is a shop window that displays unclothed mannequins de vitrine. When you think about it, it’s a shop window for people who are shopping for their shop windows. Here you can find mannequins that have plainly come out of the closet—outspokenly gay mannequins dressed up in cowboy hats or construction helmets like the Village People, and also mannequins of women who you can never have, bold Parisian women with perfect breasts whose nipples point indifferently at the longeur they have inspired. These are not like the mannequins you find in New York or Chicago or even in Vienna or London. They are very French, to the extent that they exude the delight in sexuality and in appearance that characterizes life along all the great streets of Paris—St. Michel, St. Germain, Raspail, Montparnasse, and Montorgueil (a small thoroughfare emerging at the heart of one of Paris’s most trafficked neighborhoods). A store window has to be populated by mannequins that customers can relate to. Otherwise, they won’t buy the merchandise. Though these mannequins are silent, they radiate the self-possession and almost jingoistic confidence that characterizes the French. These mannequins wear French culture on their non-existent sleeves.

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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paris Journal IV: Silence is Golden

The Musée Carnavalet in the Marais section of Paris is the Museum of the City of Paris, which is housed in the former residence of the great letter-writer Madame de Sevigny. One of the permanent exhibits is the room Marcel Proust occupied. “C’est dans son modeste lit du laine qu’il composa la plus grande partie de A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.It was in his modest wool bed that he composed the great part of The Remembrance of Things Past, reads the inscription on the wall outside the installation. The room was covered in cork at the suggestion of his friend, the Comtesse de Noailles, to ensure silence. The same décor existed in the three residences Proust occupied after the death of his parents: 102 Boulevard Haussman (1902-1919), 8 bis rue Laurent-Pichat (l919), and 44 rue Hamelin (1919-22). With its antique desk, its chest, its tiny upholstered chair, Proust’s digs resemble the small but elegant respites in the expensive boutique hotels that are ubiquitous in Paris these days. Its embroidered couch recalls Freud’s study. Proust’s cane remains, and on the wall is a picture of Proust’s father Adrian, a doctor who wore pince-nez. One floor up in the Carnavalet is a floor devoted to the French Revolution, which contains a framed copy of the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen. The first article reads: “Le but de la société est le bonheur commun.” The aim of society is the happiness of everyone—a dictum that has apparently eluded the hardened creatures who still lurk in the doorways of the infamous rue St. Denis only a few blocks away.

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

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jay Neugeboren: Q+A With the Editor

We published Jay Neugeboren's first novel in two decades, 1940, in the spring of 2008. In a fantastic review of the book, the Los Angeles Times called Jay "one of our most honored writers of literary fiction," which cleanly sums up my sentiments.

We've recently made plans to publish Jay's fourth collection of stories (and our first!), You Are My Heart And Other Stories, next spring. It's marvelous, and underlines Jay's reputation as one of our pre-eminent American writers.

ED: This new collection of stories is impressive to me in the ways in which it deals with the complexities of relationships. Is this reflective of a period in your life where you’re maybe better capable of understanding your own previous relationships?

JN: I’m not sure that my understanding of my previous relationships--the life I’ve lived--has much to do with the writing of stories. What intrigues always, fifty years ago as now, is mystery: how did we get to be who we are, and how did somebody I don’t know, or know slightly, or imagine into being, get to be who that person is. In the extended moment that is a story, it is the web of relationships (involving people, places, events, memory) that can evoke the unseen from the seen, and allow us to move through past, present, and future in both troubling and pleasurable ways. The question, though--always always--will I be capable of conjuring up that moment, that story?

I wrote The Stolen Jew (1981), not because I knew about Jews in 19th century Russia, or what things were like for my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents who were either born in Russia, or were first generation Americans, but because I did not know what their lives were like and had been like before I was born. In order to know--to begin to understand who they were and where they had come from (and, thus, to begin to understand who I was, and why), I had to invent their lives.

Just so in these new stories. Although the time and place of many of the stories may be known to me--Brooklyn in the years during and after World War Two, the south of France during the uprisings of 1968 and in the 21st century--the people in the stories--who they are and what happens to them--these are invented so that I can come to understand things about them, and their relationships to one another--and to time and to place--in ways that are, until I write the stories, un-known to me.

There is also this: I’ve been free, these past few years, from responsibilities that were mine through most of my adult life. For a large portion of this life I was an on-site single parent to my three children (all now adults themselves, and well-launched); caretaker to my brother Robert, who has been a mental patient for five decades, and who now receives the kind of decent care that does not require me to be active full-time in caring for him and/or monitoring the care he receives; a full-time professor, and adviser to several generations of graduate students (I took early retirement a decade ago); guardian for my mother in her final illness, which lasted more than a decade (she died in 2003); owner of a large old home and two cars (I now live in a thousand square foot New York City apartment, own no car), etc.

I.e., Perhaps, being free of such worldly responsibilities, I have the time, and good fortune, to be able to luxuriate in letting my imagination roam more freely than ever--in the contemplation of relationships, and in the conjuring up of stories, worlds, people who themselves can roam freely, doing things (and contemplating things) that are, by turns, surprising, sweet, weird, sad, horrifying, or astonishing. For the most part, I let them go their way, observe their relationships, sometimes guide them this way or that, and then, in the writing of the stories, try to make some sense of what I have glimpsed, discovered, and/or sense about what I remain (passionately) curious about.

ED: The stories, ranging in location from South Africa to France to mid-20th century Brooklyn, wonderfully use location to evoke mood. I’m thinking of the hospital in Avignon being re-located in ‘Make-A-Wish’, or Peter imagining the dispersal of anti-retrovirals in South Africa in ‘Here or There.’ Do you find it more or less difficult to do this with short fiction?

JN: No more difficult than in a novel. I’ve set novels and stories in times and places I’ve never been to or known directly: Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries, Israel in 1978, the Bronx in 1940, Manhattan in 1904, Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1915; Hollywood in 1930, Cuba in the twenties, South Africa today, etc. The task is ever the same: to do enough homework so that the latitude and longitude of the tales--time and place--seem accurate (to use, and invert Marianne Moore’s image: I try to set imaginary toads in real gardens). I would expect anyone who has been to, or knows, the places in which I set the stories in the new collection--Avignon, Grasse, South Africa, Lakewood, New Jersey--to think: Yes, that’s what it’s like! Place is as central to story as it is to life: it evokes feelings, images, and, above all, memories. I trust the details and descriptions in the stories--the selection of detail; what I leave in and, as important, what I leave out--evoke place in particular (not general or generalized) ways. But a major difference, I note here, briefly, between writing stories and novels has to do not with the conjuring up of place, but with the way one deals with time. Writing a short story is as different from writing a novel as painting a watercolor is from making a sculpture. They may have similar elements, or effects, though to elaborate on the differences would require a more lengthy discussion than seems useful or possible here. Suffice to say: stories come to me as stories--the arc of the tale, and its length (short stories are shorter than novels, and according to Poe, who set the standards, should be able to be read in a single sitting) necessitates that all must be contained within a certain ‘space’--and novels come to me as novels.

Curious discovery: When my previous (3rd) collection of stories was published in 2005, I first became aware that, in general, my novels take place in shorter time periods (weeks and months) than my short stories, which often move across many years--and, as in the two novellas in this collection, across several generations.

ED: In many of the reviews of your work, you’re credited with very intelligently raising some profound questions rather than simply banging the reader over the head. You have a grace in revealing these questions so that they unravel almost like a mystery – I’m thinking specifically of Daniel’s progression in 1940. Is there a succinct way for you to explain your thoughts on the writer’s role in storytelling?

JN: Best way to explain: Tell the story. Old adage (attributed to Sam Goldwyn) for writers--‘If you want to send messages, use Western Union.’ The last thing I intend to write is, to quote Flannery O’Connor, “a sketch with an essay woven through it, or an essay with a sketch woven through it, or an editorial with a character in it, or a case history with a moral, or some other mongrel thing.” When people ask, for example, ‘What are you trying to say in your story?,’ I wince. My characters themselves may have much on their minds, and strong views, but what they believe may or may not be what I may or may not (at different times) believe. The hope is to create a world that has its own inner logic; as in life, it is the complex of relationships: time, place, character--that helps to reveal things, to dissolve some mysteries (about the characters and their worlds), while creating others. I’m not naïve enough to believe my stories are without themes; my own prejudices, convictions, and tastes often, like the proverbial hem of the skirt, may show. If so, too bad. But I don’t conceive of my stories thematically (as being about ‘profound questions’)--I don’t think: in this story I want to raise questions of a and b and c... I think in terms of the voice or voices in which most effectively to tell the tale, of the characters I dimly know and want to know better, and of the language that may most vividly evoke moments whose joy or sorrow or delight I, for whatever reasons, am trying to evoke...

ED: You’re one of the most prolific and diligent writers I know. Can you describe your routine?

JN: I wake up early--630-645--eat breakfast while glancing thru the N. Y. Times, then turn off my phone (essential!), make a journal entry, and begin working. I go over what I’ve written the day before and don’t move forward until I’ve revised what I’ve already written in a reasonably satisfactory way. I revise endlessly, and by hand. I use up many, many trees. One of my early novels, coming in at 500 pages, went through a dozen complete drafts. I love trimming and cutting: for another novel, a penultimate draft of over 1000 pages became, happily, a book of fewer than 500 pages in its final draft. Depending on the story, I spend a good deal of time doing homework (a year or so for most of my novels)--researching this and that, reading, sketching in scenes, wandering about in the unknown, searching through new and old notes, folders, drafts, scenes (leftovers) that were cut from other tales. In two of the stories in this collection, major sections derive from stories I first began writing more than three decades ago. I don’t show anything I’ve written to anyone until I believe it’s finished and ready to submit. And, when deeply submerged in writing fiction--novels or stories--I stop reading most fiction: find myself much too suggestible and vulnerable.

ED: One of the publishing figures that you’ve brought up in conversation to me previously is Hal Scharlatt. He had worked with you and Rudy Wurlitzer, amongst many other writers. Can you tell us about him, and maybe a favorite story if you have one?

JN: Hal was my editor for an early non-fiction book, Parentheses: An Autobiographical Journey (1970), which I wrote when I was thirty. It tells of my political activities in the civil rights and anti-war movements in the sixties, my tenure as a junior executive trainee for the General Motors Corporation, my coming-of-age as a writer (eight unpublished books before my first novel, Big Man, was published in 1966), and of the life I lived for two years in a small village in the south of France. Hal was one of the boy wonders of publishing--editor-in-chief of E. P. Dutton before he was thirty. He was both easy-going and driven, a total mensch and a shrewd, demanding editor, and he believed in publishing books he loved, and he loved working with writers. He edited my book line by line, and my fondest memory is of a day we spent together, going over the manuscript, when he drove out from Manhattan in an old rear-engine Volkswagon to where I was living at the time--on the Old Westbury campus of the State University of New York (the former Clark estate). What surpised me was that a man in charge of a major New York publishing company would drive out to Long Island, and spend an entire day going over a manuscript with an author (me) on a book that he warned had only the slightest chance for commercial success (despite his efforts, and mine, the book sold under 1500 copies). He loved books, and he loved the work he did--also bringing into being, while editor-in-chief, a literary magazine, The Dutton Review, in order to provide a home for new writers and adventurous prose.

August 18, 2010

Jay Neugeboren's fourth collection of stories, You Are My Heart and Other Stories, will be published May 2011.

Author photograph credit: Copyright Eli Neugeboren.

Paris Journal III: Horlogerie

Photo by Hallie Cohen

If you walk down the Boulevard Raspail to the tiny rue du Cherche-Midi, you will come to a bronze plaque outside a narrow storefront: Horlogerie Arvaud. The left side of the window reads Restauration de Pendules Anciens, and on the right Reparations Bijouterie Horlogerie. There are period candelabras surrounded by clocks in glass, under which is the inscriptions Experts Pres la cour D’Appel, which is simply an elegant way of saying that the watch store does estimates. In the window is also a scene—a dog and a dog house surrounded by rabbits—into which is nestled a gold pocket watch. Here is a world of objects, alarms clocks and a decorative time keepers, which have eluded the digital age. In Manhattan and several other large cities, there are still old fashioned typewriter stores which service Royals and Olympias and provide typewriter ribbons for the small band of luddites who have managed to avoid the world of computers. The tiny shop on the ancient Paris street similarly caters to a dwindling population who maintain ancient time pieces in timeless Left Bank apartments which have outlived wars and invasions, the Jacobins, the expulsion of Napoleon’s army from Russia, the occupation of Paris by the Nazis, whose headquarters were at the Lutetia down the street from this little piece of the past, and the succession of Republics that make France what it is today.

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

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paris Journal II: En Avion

The screen reads Kennebunkport, Lawrence, Fall River, Gulf of Maine. A toy plane follows a red line across the Atlantic Ocean to Paris, Nice, Algiers, the Celtic Sea, the Bay of Biscay. It is 1:26 New York time and 7:26 in Paris. Over three thousand miles have been traveled, translating to over 5,000 Kilometers. The plane heading into the sun is suddenly filled with blinding light. This is the miracle that we all take for granted. Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus is the symbolic son of Icarus, who flew too high, but is the triumph of air travel a form of hubris for which nature intermittently rises up in vengeance, in the form of mechanical failures and terrorist incidents that humble the awesome mechanical birds? During the Pleistocene era, huge pterodactyls filled the sky. Are jets the distant relatives of these prehistoric creatures, who fell victim to the asteroid that created the ice age out of which the early forms of man, Homo habilis and Australopithecus, would eventually rise? For all the modernity of the contraption and the way it’s taken its place in the repertoire of modern consciousness (remember the innocence of St Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince?), there is something frighteningly primitive about the way these flocks of man’s invention fill the skies. The screen in the cabin is a cartoon of defiance against the laws of gravity. Will modernity someday face the equivalent of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, now trying crimes against humanity? If it is true that laws of nature are made to be broken—and time will tell the extent to which our carbon footprint has been formed by fuel consuming conveniences like air travel—who will answer for these crimes and what will the sentence finally be?

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

Paris Journal I: Airport Lounge

These days, when someone is looking for an airport, it usually just means they want to activate their Wi-Fi connection. One of the few refuges at real airports are the lounges that can be enjoyed by holding certain kinds of credit cards or upgrading to a business class ticket. A good lounge is far from the madding crowd, and frequently offers comforting snacks. For instance, the Alitalia lounge in Milan is noted for its seemingly infinite supply of nuts. The Lufthansa lounge at Kennedy didn’t have that many nuts a few years ago, but it served a rotating buffet of hot hors d’oeuvres. Open Skies and Jet Air share a lounge at Newark that is totally devoid of nuts, but potato chip friendly. There are bags of Lay's, both the classic and barbecue variety, along with a large bowl of far more substantive chips that look like they’ve been freshly cooked. The modern lounge of today, with all its ready amenities, including Wi-Fi, poses the question of why it’s actually necessary to go anywhere. If one goes to the Louvre, one is likely to be checking one’s Blackberry for emails. In today’s well equipped lounge, one can easily visit the Louvre or the Tate online, and have a far more intimate connection with the art than one might have navigating the crowds at some blockbuster, multi-media Picasso exhibit. Perhaps lounges should become destination points, since they provide the illusion of travel without the inevitable disappointments that transpire upon arrival at an actual destination. Remember Arthur Hailey’s Airport, and the Burt Lancaster movie it inspired?

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


We published Scott Bradfield's eighth book of fiction, The People Who Watched Her Pass By, in April, and here we are -- it's August -- and it's still getting raves from reviewers.

In Rain Taxi's summer issue, there's a fantastic interview with Bradfield by Paul Maliszewski titled "All Stories Are Animal Stories." Check that one out.

This past weekend, The Times Literary Supplement (TLS), called the book "a dark comedy that cuts through the bureaucracy and political correctness of modern American life."
And this coming weekend, The New York Times Book Review has it scheduled to review.
As if you needed a reason to check it out.
You can read the first chapter of the book, which was also excerpted in Black Clock, at our site.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Grace Krilanovich: Q+A With the Editor

I’m not sure Eliza and I have spent more time on our front porch discussing the many layers and details of a book as we have with The Orange Eats Creeps. There are many options for reading this story. I think it could be read as a surreal feminist revenge story, or a heartbreaking quest for lost childhood. At one point, I thought possibly the second half of the novel was where the main character chose “the hibernation option.” And then the PW review mentioned war as a possibility, which I had never even considered. Without asking you anything too blatant about what you feel the book is about, how did you go about incorporating all of these vast, wide-ranging themes and thoughts into a book that originated with a series of clichés?

GK: On the most basic level I sought to incorporate everything I ever thought, saw, read, felt or heard about into the story. That’s why I love the form of the novel so much – it’s a container that can hold so much. The challenge to fill it with the entire world is unique, and also paralyzing. At the same time, while I was frontloading it with the verbal equivalent of a landfill of ideas and thoughts, I was also conscious of restricting it a great deal – tamping it way down, to the point where I didn’t want to have things like computers, high school, sports, the DMV, or even phones taking up space (or at least limit it to landlines. No cell phones here). Forget about TV shows, movies, commercials, celebrities (other than Marty Stouffer and a few others); use no more than a handful of brand names, stores and settings -- just a discrete constellation of objects swirling around in a morass, smoothed into a comforting repetitive swath. It’s a most enticing refuge. This is the paradox I mentioned before, of everything and nothing interchangeably, of constraints yielding hitherto un-thought possibilities out of the infinite.
I even made a deck of cards to help in the writing of the novel – three “suits” for Settings, Characters and Afflictions. I would deal a “hand” and write the scene that emerged from the juxtaposition of the three – something like “cat-rat,” “7-Eleven,” “sleep paralysis,” for instance.

So, sure, it can be each of those things you mention above. I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say it’s open to any and all interpretations -- that seems like a cop-out on my part. I did try to steer it in a direction.

In reading through this generic author questionnaire that we had you complete, you referenced a number of books that mined a similar terrain, ranging from Patty Reed’s Doll to true crime books to Lynda Barry and Kathy Acker. Could you talk about some of the various work and artists that provided inspiration for OEC?

GK: One of the very early sources of inspiration was the movie The Lost Boys. One of my favorite sequences is where Michael goes from hanging precariously on a train trestle to falling through a thick fog, down, down, finally landing gently on his bed. So dreamy for a movie about teen boys. In Santa Cruz, where the movie was filmed in the late 80s, it was a really big deal when the film crews came around. Then of course watching the finished product it was funny to see the glaring geographic continuity gaffes and inaccuracies in the cinematic version of my town – their “Santa Carla.” The movie seems to be referencing real events, however, most prominently the series of Manson-esque murders that led to Santa Cruz being deemed the “murder capital of the world” in the early 70s. I can only imagine how creepy it was in town then. My mom’s family went to the same church as the Ohta family, who were slaughtered wholesale at their Rodeo Gulch home. Santa Cruz’s proximity to San Francisco meant that hippies who were too weird for the Haight-Ashbury scene retreated into the margins, the woods, by the end of the 60s. The forests provided many places to hide.
Then, of course, growing up in California meant being schooled in the lore of the Donner Party (Patty Reed was a Santa Cruz resident later in life), with field trips to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento to see the doll, etc. The fact that the book Patty Reed’s Doll is an account of the Donner Party tragedy just for kids is kind of amusing. Campy? Sure. Fourth grade is where we also cover the California Missions – and that’s a whole other ball of euphemistic complexity. It involved making a model out of clay, paper maché or sugar cubes. The missions are still there, each one day’s walk from the next, all the way up the spine of CA. You get the feeling some heavy shit happened on the site. Thousands of years of life as they knew it ending in the span of a few generations. Some of the facts remain obscure. The ongoing project: trying to excavate for clues – because you haven’t been given the whole story. It’s been lost. So I guess one of the early impulses for writing The Orange Eats Creeps was to engage these childlike, would-be-camp approximations of our local horrors – sifting through that for some residual truth, as if it could ever be known.
Books-wise, yeah, Cruddy and Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula by the Black Tarantula were two titles that people immediately drew parallels to. I couldn’t help but be influenced by some of the weird books and movies I saw at young impressionable ages: Andy Warhol’s Trash, Naked Lunch, the SCUM Manifesto, John Rechy’s City of Night, Tropic of Cancer, Christiane F – all consumed from the summer of my 15th year to the summer of my 16th. At 12 I loved the book The Girl Who Owned a City. Creepy Victoriana: Wisconsin Death Trip, quasi-Victorian eccentric Tasha Tudor, found photos of everyday interiors in The Tasteful Interlude... Around the time I started writing the book all kinds of stuff was swirling around in my head: Mulholland Dr., Twin Peaks (and the tie-in book Diary of Laura Palmer), the art of Joe Coleman, Journey to the End of the Night, music documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Rebecca Brown’s The Dogs, Story of the Eye… I was seeing bands like High on Fire regularly, wrapping myself up in the heaviness, etc. I happened upon a strange catalog of arcane and forbidden texts called the Amok Fifth Dispatch (a book so disturbing I haven’t even been able to crack it in 6 or 7 years); the RE/Search books, especially stuff about JG Ballard and Burroughs and cut-ups; music books like Our Band Could Be Your Life, American Hardcore. There were the two days in 2004 I spent countless hours helping my then-boyfriend process some dude’s collection (literally a truckload) of 60s and 70s adult magazines -- sorting, putting them in sleeves, etc. That kind of warped my brain for a bit.

I’m not of the school that seeks to limit or eliminate entirely the reading of other books during the process of writing one. I think the influence is inevitable, sure – but why not use it strategically? That’s when I started reading stuff like Awakening to Animal Voices, The Ohlone Way and Guyotat’s Eden Eden Eden. This is different from reading for research. You’re just looking for the flavor to impart.
I’ve enjoyed places like Publishers Weekly running captions saying “Slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies run amok in Grace Krilanovich’s debut novel.” Does it make you smirk too?

GK: Yeah. I am a big fan of sleaze and camp ridiculousness. And the S-T-H-V-J combo seems like maybe three too many factors, which I always thought was funny. Just a tad excessive. Like, do they have to be hobos and junkies and . . . vampires? I hoped it would one day transcend its obviousness and become more “literary.” Ever upward! Although I’ve heard that the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book was cool. And then the kids cartoon version battered it into oblivion, so that time it went in reverse.

Are you concerned that people might label this ‘just another book about slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies?’

GK: Haha! Who said that? Rob Zombie? I want to meet these jaded weirdos. That would mean it has become a genre, right? Is it even possible to have a genre with more than three descriptors? Is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! just another Castrating Vixen Hot Rod Desert Boob movie? Is Guns ‘n Roses just more Paranoid Dystopian Rape-core, helmed by a Manic Frontman-clown?

How do you follow up a book like The Orange Eats Creeps?

GK: A historical romance, stricken with nightmares.

Oh don’t worry, I’m still working through the same issues. This time it’s the Coast Range of California in the 1870s. It started with the idea of writing a novel cover version of the song “Past All Dishonor” by Divine Horsemen. Then after a while I discovered that the song itself is based on a James M. Cain book of the same name – an obscure post-Civil War tale of homicidal love, a noir on the Western frontier. Oh well. I kept writing anyway. Then I realized what I was writing was basically the story of the movie Gilda. There are no new plots, apparently. At least it’s fun to write a pastiche history, making it cool and stylish, like McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Grace Krilanovich's first novel, The Orange Eats Creeps, will be published September 1. You can pre-order it during the month of August for $10 through our website.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies Unite!

We're having a pre-order sale on Grace Krilanovich's "visionary" debut novel, The Orange Eats Creeps.

Order the book through our site during the month of August and get it for just 10 bones!!!

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Here's a recipe for kedjenou - the dish that Vivian and Djeli were eating at the African Grill in Bamako that first night when Mariam came storming in with her head-tie undone.


1 chicken, cut up
2 or 3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 eggplant, chopped
2 onions, sliced
3 hot chili peppers, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. ginger, minced
1 t. thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 325˚. Put all the ingredients in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Place in oven for about 2 ½ hours. Jostle the pot a few times while cooking. Correct seasoning. Serve with foutou (mashed yams).

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Tierno Bokar

Djeli's 2004 release, À Tierno Bokar, was one of the most politically trenchant and yet poetically sophisticated albums of recent memory. It was a complicated project for him to take on. He'd long ago openly stated his resistance to all organized religion and his specific concerns regarding Islam - not just fundamentalism, but even some moderate forms. He most frequently voiced his concerns in relation to gender politics and homophobia. But obviously, it was also important to acknowledge a figure of tolerance such as Bokar. Also, his sister Kadidia was deeply involved in Sufism. I'm sure this had an influence on the project.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Filles, filles, filles

In my novel, the narrator Vivian describes a field trip she once took with her son’s middle school rock band. They went to see a Mötley Crüe concert. The entourage consisted of her, a couple of tattooed, balding, ponytailed dads, plus the boys in the band:

“It was in Madison Square Garden. Somebody had snagged a skybox for our party. I tried to chitchat with the ponytailed dads. A guy brought in giant cups of soda for us, and potato chips, on the house. You know how rock concerts are. We were very far from the stage, but they have those huge video projections on the side. There were some women dancers with enormous, buoyant boobs making snarling faces at the audience. Tommy Lee rode onto the stage on a motorcycle and the crowd went wild. The biggest hit, which got the most enthusiastic reception, was their classic, ‘Girls, Girls, Girls.’

“Perhaps you know the lyrics to that one. They start out extolling the virtues of leggy, red-lipped beauties from the West Coast and the Northeast; then they reminisce tenderly about a certain sexual escapade in Paris, France. They manage to rhyme ‘ménage à trois’ with ‘breaking those Frenchies’ laws.’

“Their rendition of this little chestnut was accompanied by much snarling and gyration from the dancers. The dads drank their sodas and ate chips. So did the kids. So did I. I was wondering what we were doing there but thinking it was an educational experience for Sandro and me.”

Vivian also mentions this concert in an e-mail to Djeli. I think he understood the irony of her citing this particular song. Recently he posted an instrumental cover of it to his YouTube page:

I thought that was pretty sweet. At least Djeli has a sense of humor about himself.

I’d kind of hoped, though, that he would record the song with the words. It would be very pretty, really, in that haunting falsetto of his.

Filles, filles, filles
Les lèvres rouges, les bouts des doigts…

Raconte-moi une histoire
Tu sais laquelle…

Le Crazy Horse, Paris, France
J’ai oublié les noms, mais je me souviens de la romance…

Monday, August 02, 2010

Djeli Kouyaté

I’m back blogging this week about the last of my narrator’s lovers, Djeli Kouyaté. He’s a virtuosic Malian rock star - and a formidable intellectual. He studied political philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. He generally keeps himself pretty busy.

In the span of just a couple of months in 2008, for example, he had a benefit concert for Cité Soleil with his best friend, Wyclef Jean. He also did a benefit performance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. He was briefly back in Bamako for a private strategy meeting with Amadou Toumani Touré, the President. He spoke at the third World Congress Against the Death Penalty at the Cité Universitaire Internationale de Paris. He attended, though didn’t speak at, the Conference on Moral Particularism at Paris I. There was a documentary filmmaker who’d been following him around with a small crew. Djeli went back and forth between finding him entertaining and a pain in the ass. And of course, there was the regular media attention. This seems to flair up when he indulges himself in dinner dates with supermodels. Which happens with considerable regularity.

I haven’t spoken with him about Wyclef Jean’s possible run for the Haitian presidency. I’m sure he has mixed feelings.