The Bat Segundo Show: Florence Williams

Florence Williams appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #457. She is most recently the author of Breasts.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating a new career in unique dairy products.

Author: Florence Williams

Subjects Discussed: The history of breastfeeding, formula ushered into the industrial age, artificial selection and breasts, 19th century mothers who raised infants on oatmeal, infant mortality, contaminants within breast milk, the recent Time breastfeeding cover controversy, finding flame retardants in breast milk, why formula isn’t a particularly pure product, public breastfeeding laws, lactating moms with pitchforks, phthalates, the difficulty of studying the effects of industrial chemicals on humans, chemicals untested on humans, California’s Proposition 65, being helpless in the wake of Beltway indifference to industrial chemicals, the increase in breast cancer, the Komen for the Cure controversy earlier in the year, breast cancer awareness, increased rates of breast cancer in China, Zena Werb’s molecular research, the Burke and Hare murders, murdering the poor and selling organs to anatomists, burking, John Landis films, the Anatomy Act of 1832, studying breasts at the cellular level, studying rat mammaries to understand humans, the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, ideas on implementing Google Maps for milk ducts, breast apps, knowing more about the cow diary industry than human milk, red wine, the human milk demographic, thought experiments on a human cheese market, making money from human milk, prebiotics, the human breast milk black market, how to confuse vegans with breast milk, imagining a world where one can pick up a gallon of human milk in a bodega, breast enlargement, Dr. Michael Ciaravino and his Houston breast augmentation factory, breasts and patriarchal associations, pornography being ratcheted up, boosting the self-esteem of girls, the virtues of small breasts, Timmie Jean Lindsey and the first breast implant, the problems with objectification from several angles, the problems with early silicone implants, the Dow Corning class action lawsuit, women with breast implants who lose nipple sensation, the marketing of breast implants, the inevitability of living with toxic dust and radiation, and the Stockholm Protocol (and the United States’s failure to sign it).


Correspondent: I wouldn’t to actually get into the history of breastfeeding. Before the 20th century, of course, breastfeeding was the main method of feeding babies. Then we have postwar life ushering in formula and so forth. It has been pointed out, as you say in the book, by evolutionary biologists that 6,000 human genes relating to lactation are among our most stubbornly conserved ones and, if natural selection as even Darwin has pointed out is in favor of lactation, my question to you is: why is artificial selection through industry so very much against it? Just to get things started here.

Williams: Oh, that’s a big question. Well, you know, there have always been women throughout history — even in our deep evolutionary past — who didn’t want to breastfeed or who couldn’t breastfeed. Of course, many women died in child birth. There were lots of breast infections, as well as other infections related to child birth. And so sometimes women couldn’t produce enough milk. And so as I point out in the book, actually wet nursing is one of the oldest professions known to humankind. You know, humans are very flexible and picky in their feeding habits. And some populations wouldn’t wean their infants for years. Three, four years. The recent cover of Time Magazine was so shocking because it had a three-year-old on the cover. But, in fact, the human race would not be here if it weren’t for toddlers breastfeeding in our deep evolutionary past. And then there have always been populations that wean their young earlier. So when formula came along, many, many women thought this was a great liberating phenomenon and invention. And, you know, they went for it with greater and lesser success, I would say. You know, in the 19th century, women sometimes tried to raise their infants on oatmeal, basically, and cow’s milk.

Correspondent: That was sort of the formula of its time.

Williams: That was the formula of its time. It was often a total disaster.

Correspondent: I would imagine oatmeal wouldn’t be exactly quite the same constituency.

Williams: It’s not really everything you need. And so infant mortality was really high among infants who were not breastfed. Fortunately, now, formula is pretty good at approximating the nutritional needs of the infant. But as we’re learning more and more all the time, breast milk isn’t just a food. It’s a medicine.

Correspondent: It’s a way of life.

Williams: It’s a way of life. (laughs)

Correspondent: Sorry. But it is actually a way of life — in all seriousness. As you point out in this book, there’s also a good deal of adulterated breast milk that is running around right now. We’ll get into the whole phthalates and plastic chemicals in just a bit. But I’m wondering. Why aren’t we considering this? I mean, I guess your book is a starting point. Or is this, in fact, one of the serious issues that scientists are presently looking into? Or is it?

Williams: Oh yes. It is. You know, breast milk now has been known to have contaminants in it from the industrial world. I tested my breast milk while I was breastfeeding my second child and I found out that I had flame retardants and jet fuel ingredient. Trace amounts of pesticide.

Correspondent: That’s what you get for having a pilot career.

Williams: (laughs)

Correspondent: Oh, you didn’t have a pilot career! I see.

Williams: Oops! I didn’t have a pilot career.

Correspondent: Wow.

Williams: We all have these substances coursing through our bodies. Unfortunately, some of them really collect in fatty tissue in the breast. And then the breast is really masterful at converting these substances into food. So it ends up in our breast milk. But I would point out that I did continue breastfeeding. I was convinced that the benefits still outweighed the risks. And, of course, formula is not a completely pure product either. It’s also contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides and whatever else is in the water that you’re mixing it with. And then, you know, of course there are sometimes these scares that come out of China where you find melamine and other weird additives in the formula. So unfortunately, I feel that we’ve taken this miraculous evolutionary substance and we’ve degraded it to the point where you can really now almost compare to formula.

Correspondent: So we can, in fact, compare sullied breast milk of the present industrial age with the formula of yesteryear that infants relied upon. Is it safe to say that we can determine which is the greater threat these days? Or what?

Williams: I still think the benefits of breast milk are incredibly profound and amazing. You know, we’re just learning more and more all the time about how breast milk boosts the immune system. And there’s some evidence that despite all the pollutants in breast milk, it still protects the infant possibly from the effects of other chemicals. You know, it boosts the IQ and it helps teach the human immune system what’s a good pathogen, what’s a bad pathogen. So there are all kinds of great reasons to still use it. Of course, unfortunately, in the United States anyway, we don’t really support breastfeeding. As you can tell from the reaction to that Time cover, we’re still deeply uncomfortable with it.

Correspondent: There are still public laws, however, that permit women to breastfeed their children that we’ve seen more and more of in the last decade or two. I think there’s — well, we’re in New York City. So we can be a little hubristic about this.

Williams: You can do anything. (laughs)

Correspondent: You’re coming from Colorado. So I think it’s a little more challenging there.

Williams: Well, there’s always these stories in the news of women who get kicked out of the shopping mall because they need to breastfeed their infant. And sometimes that creates this big reaction. And sometimes lactating moms will come and have protests.

Correspondent: Lactating moms with pitchforks. I love it! (laughs)

Williams: Stay away from them. They’re dangerous!

The Bat Segundo Show #457: Florence Williams (Download MP3)

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The party’s over

But what a party it was, Ed.

After a blow-out like that, I’m sure everyone’s ready for a laid back weekend. I know I am. Why not read a book? This one is pretty good. This gentleman thought so. And so did this fellow. A bunch of others did I too, but let’s not get redundant.

Hey! I just jumped over to that Amazon page! You’d better hurry up and order! There’s only one left in stock! Oh … wait a minute … there’s more on the way. Everyone can relax. But whew, that was close!

(I used five exclamation points in that last graph!)

Some people don’t like the cover of that book. Hell of a thing when some chick fools around for years writing and rewriting a cool little book and people sniff at the picture on the cover and don’t even give it a chance. It’s sort of like taking a thousand dance lessons, getting pretty good at the mambo, then being forced to wear a dress someone else picked out for the ball that ain’t so great and spending the evening wandering around the punch bowl.

I know. How about this: I’ll give you a sample–just like the lady with the tray of little paper cups at the grocery store. But instead of a tiny hot dog piece (sorry Tao), here’s a taste of what’s inside of the book.

I guess that’s all for now. I loved spending time with all of you. Ed, you throw one hell of a bash.


Now if anyone finds my undies (the ones with the zipper) please send them here.



Close Encounters of the Erin Kind or Steven Spielberg walk with me

Most people watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and see a pretty good movie about a guy who really wants to get on a space ship.

They are wrong. This movie is about me.

Every day, I see Devil’s Tower in my mind. I see it and I must create it. So I go to my keyboard and start to form it up. The first attempt is a rough sketch, a shape. It is something, but it is not right. I print it out and study it, decide what is working and what is not. The next attempt is closer–not right, just closer.

I must get it right.

“Mom?” says my kid from the doorway of my office.

But I am consumed with the mashed potato model in front of me, the mud model in front of me. I know that I have been summoned to do this, to realize this, that it is a pilgrimage of sorts and that nothing can stop me.

The trained guys in the space suits that are supposed to get onto the spaceship? Those are not trained guys in space suits.

Them’s your book-learned guys.

The book-learned guys really know space ships! They have all the technical capabilities. They can turn out one perfect sentence after another and deconstruct James Joyce and discuss every book the NYT reviewed this week.

But all the book-learning in the world will not give them the calling.

Funny thing about the calling is that when you have it, the book learning is delivered unto you. Because in your quest to realize that which is inside of you, you’re going to need some tools. So with the bottomless obsession and energy that drives you to create, you

“Hey Honey? What about dinner?”

seek out those tools. And at once the word “you” transforms from three simple letters into a tricky device called second person.

Suddenly, the nuance of punctuation is no longer a preposterous assertion.




Suddenly The Overuse Of Capitalization Becomes Really Funny To You. You learn how to SHOUT without uttering one noise.

Yeah, yeah.

And just like in the movie, plenty of people try and stop you and tell you that you are crazy and that the whole thing is stupid. On the journey, you find one or two others as obsessed as you and you immediately understand one another. You fall down. And when the canary dies, you second guess yourself until the compulsion wells up again and thrusts you forward.

The movie is about the quest. The prize is far away, a reverie in Technicolor flying overhead. But the power of wishing upon a star is in the wish, not the star.

It is a good day when you realize this.

Now you will excuse me, dear reader. Despite being hopelessly insufficient, this essay has gone on entirely too long and I have a date with a dozen or so little space men.



Beautifully honest

Despite our digital sophistication, today’s ubiquitous pornography is as bad as ever. Most amateur efforts are awful. Professional images are digitally trumped up to impossible cartoons. People portray sex they way they think it should be–not the way it is. The resulting pornography rarely has any relevance to the true human condition.

Beautiful Agony is different.

The website is subtitled “Facettes de la Petit Mort,” or “Faces of the Little Death,” the French euphemism for orgasm. This site features regular people doing what they have been doing ever since they figured out how. The videos show the “artists” from the neck up as they pleasure themselves, although some clips feature couples. There is no nudity.

Much has been written about the site, but little has been said. Viewing the videos moved me in ways I did not expect. I found them fascinating, crass, embarrassing, beautiful, arousing, and nerve-racking all at once. The clips evoked a strange self-awareness in me.

In a word, Beautiful Agony is honest.

Eschewing nudity on the site is brilliant. Our genitalia are fairly predictable during sex. Our faces, however, are anything but. With the temptation to look down there removed, the viewer must focus on the facial contortions associated with the powerful moments of climax. The resulting images have little in common with the aesthetically enhanced cosmetic honeys we normally see. Real people are intense and contorted during sex. Collapsed eyebrows, clenched teeth, giggles, shudders and pauses portray not just pleasure, but anguish, pain, irritation, playfulness and even grace.

Sometimes eyes are open, sometimes closed. Sometimes eyes startle into round O’s as if the artist has somehow surprised themselves.

Perhaps the most provocative aspect of the clips is the sounds: utterances, fabric brushing fabric, inhalations. One woman exclaims, “Fuck yes!” to herself in a congratulatory tone. Some artists cry out and thrash. For others, a simple jerk of the head or one punctuating gasp marks their orgasm.

No one can escape identifying with these videos–hence the uncomfortable edge in watching them. The petite mort is the ultimate loss of control, the inexplicable moment of concentrated, sublime pleasure. The videos are at once universal and singular: we all have sexuality but it is different in each of us. If there is one specific commonality in the clips, it is the calm moment of aftermath when the artists revel in smoky satisfaction. Call it bedroom eyes that have just seen the light.

Now that is sexy.

The corresponding confession videos, in which fully clothed artists talking about sex, can be as unnerving and funny and disturbing as the climax clips. Topics include strangest place (on top of a car parked in front of a motel), favorite accessory (the “bunny”) and impetus (“There’s nothing good on TV.”) One man says, “Don’t be so moralish about it,” then admits to performing anal sex on other men, while quickly adding that he has never been thusly penetrated. Another woman finds masturbation useful when she can’t find a “shag.” Her corresponding masturbation clip is hollow and perfunctory.

Another man appears boyish and sweet in his clip. Then in his confession, he discloses, “I was a gay boy that grew up in a country town.” He then recounts tales of his days as a prostitute, the details of which include soiled undergarments, defecation and a group ejaculation on one paying older customer. I crumpled in front of my screen, sad and repulsed. I’d nearly forgotten that sexuality can be profoundly disturbing.

Out of the score of clips I watched, not one failed to fascinate me. I simply could not take my eyes from the screen. The site elevates this common human act and puts it on the edge of art and erotica and pornography and even scientific research. The producers and participants at Beautiful Agony have achieved a rare goal. They show us an intimate side of ourselves most of us have never seen.

* * *

The Sun’s music video “Romantic Death” on YouTube, which features a montage of clips taken from Beautiful Agony.

The preceding post was brought to you by Erin O’Brien, human being.

An ironic release date

My Larry Brown post was yesterday and ironically, this musical tribute compilation to him “Just One More, A Musical Tribute To Larry Brown” was officially released today. Your surrogate she-host (me) attended the associated tribute concert in Oxford, Mississippi a couple of months ago because I loves me a good road trip. The CD was available for presale there and I bought it.

This is one of the best goddamn collections I’ve ever heard. Every single song on it is a wonderful example of contemporary American folk music. I played it again and again and again. “Blue Car” by Greg Brown and “Song for Fay” by Caroline Herring are both so fine, they will make your spine tingle. Larry Brown also sings on it, and that is cool and fun and kind of sad too.

And while you’re at it loosen up the purse strings for chrissake and buy the bonus CD.

The preceding post was brought to you by Rainy Day Woman Erin.

Meeting Larry Brown

During the black months after my brother John died I desperately wanted to get closer to him. Not yet ready to revisit his writing, I did the next best thing and reread books he had given me: Frederick Exley’s “A Fan’s Notes,” Richard Ford’s “The Sportswriter.” I reread “American Psycho.”

It wasn’t enough.

So I listened to Bob Dylan again and again as John once advised me to do. I flailed, searching for an answer or a clue or something.


Eventually I exhausted words and music and still felt empty. I picked up his novel “Leaving Las Vegas” and tried to reread it, but literally could not. It was like trying eat in the days immediately after John died when the world was surreal and impossible. I’d look at the food on the end of the fork, but couldn’t put it in my mouth, couldn’t chew it, couldn’t process it. It was the same with “Leaving Las Vegas.” I couldn’t absorb or process the words. Bewildered, I snapped the book shut. Then I turned it over and regarded the blurbs on the back cover: authors saying nice things about the book. Now here was something new–a handful of authors who admired John.

There are tiny gifts in profound grief. They are hard to find. You must look carefully. You must recognize them and pick them out of the black soot that surrounds you. Discovering Larry Brown’s name on the dust jacket of “Leaving Las Vegas” was one of those gifts.

I was immediately taken with him. In the short story “Julie: A memory,” a violent rape is contrasted against the frantic passion of youth. In “Boy and Dog” a child’s gentle tears over his dead dog are shed moments before a terrible car fire takes a man’s life. In “Dirty Work” a woman is scarred and burned, but still capable of loving and being loved. That is what finally touched me in those dark days: the way Brown managed to find tenderness and humor and humanity in the bleakest landscapes.

I already had begun my own writing and was flattened with awe. I devoured all of Brown’s work. The more I read, the more it fueled my curiosity about him and his relationship with John. Two and a half years after my brother punctuated his life with a single bullet, I wrote Larry Brown a letter.

A month later, I pulled a standard white envelope from the mailbox.

“I did know John, and he did know my work,” Brown wrote. “Just keep faith in yourself and keep on writing. That’s what John had to do, too.”

Thus began a six-year correspondence. I was the neophyte; Brown was my mentor. When the harsh reality of writing would crush me, I’d write him.

“Much as I’ve written, I’m still scared of it in some way until I sit down and start doing it again and then all the fear goes out the window and I feel safe,” he wrote once.

In all, Brown wrote me five letters, and I wrote him 10. Our unique relationship included one face-to-face meeting. In September 2003, driven by an undeniable urgency, I took a frenetic 700-mile road trip to hear him read at a bookstore in Louisville, KY.

He looked tired. There were about 20 people there, a surprisingly staid group. He did his reading and answered mundane questions. “Yes,” he assured one woman, “I write every day.”

People lined up to have their books signed. After everyone cleared out, I approached him. “It’s Erin,” I said. “I’m Erin.”

He inflated with recognition. “Oh, Erin,” he said, “after all these years.” A genuine smile spread over his face as he stood to embrace me.

Brown and O’Brien

The letter I wrote him after that trip was funny and sad and honest. “I am the only O’Brien left,” I wrote. “I cling tenaciously to the fine threads that connect me to the ones to whom I’ve said goodbye. I think of you that way, a subtle and significant tether between John and me. That I can read your words and write you letters and drive to Louisville to verify that, yes, you are alive and real and breathing are not things I take for granted.”

Brown died about a year later.

Upon hearing the news, I gathered all our letters and reread them chronologically. I expected to get teary reading Brown’s installments but instead found myself crying over my own. There I was, vulnerable and immature and getting thrashed around by life. And there was Brown, taking on the role of older brother with sensitivity and indulgence.

“I went through the same thing, felt the same things, and I do know how tough it is,” Brown wrote in April 2002. “I’ll bet John’s advice to you would have been along the lines of just telling you that if you wanted it bad enough, to just keep at it. I know that don’t sound like much, but that pretty much sums it up.”

There was the letter I wrote Brown after Dad died. “I know you don’t deserve to get some miserable piece of shit letter like this, but it’s just that you wrote that story (“Julie: A Memory”), and it made me feel a certain way today. Amid the rejection and death and shit, there was still that marvelous story that marvelous, wonderful story”

Brown replied. “I’m sure sorry to hear about your father. I lost mine quick like that, overnight actually. I know how hard that is. I was sixteen then … Okay, well take it easy and hang in there. I write all the time and once in a while I finish something.”

The men to whom I desperately wanted to prove myself died before I had the chance.

Uncomfortable with absolutes such as heaven, hell and the insidious purgatory, I instead have constructed an egocentric Dead Guy Theater, wherein my life is the constant feature presentation. John and Dad sit there along with all of my grandparents and a cousin who died at 33, as well as the occasional guest such as Larry Brown.

My dead guys watch me with rapt attention and grandly nod their heads in approval of my every move. They were there on the day I pulled the first copy of my novel from the box and held it in my hand. They saw the glow rise in my face the day a newspaper editor bought me a beer and asked if I’d be interested in writing a regular print column.

They are there as I type these words. I know they are there.

John O’Brien was born 47 years ago today.

“Julie: A Memory” and “Boy and Dog” are part of Brown’s first short story collection, “Facing the Music.”

This post was authored by Erin O’Brien

The Big Lebowski Redux

I slide the Big Lebowski VHS cassette into the player, which accepts and draws the tape into itself politely. I take pleasure at this perfect insert-tab-A-into-slot-B policy. I smile.

Earlier in the day, a great commotion took place in the field next to my home. He who owned the field had taken advantage of a lax new Ohio law that allows drilling for oil and gas in residential areas regardless of municipal law. So much for home rule.

Hence, a towering oil derrick stands erect in the otherwise pristine meadow approximately 500 feet from my television and VHS machine, the mechanical heads of which have begun to whir. The drilling operation is replete with wildcatters, klieg lights and stentorian diesel generators.

He who owned the field, ironically, died one week ago and is not present to see his Giant dream come to fruition. No matter. Contracts were in place and the show must indeed go on.

I fast forward through the “Coming Soon” segments and settle into the movie, trying to ignore the atrocious noise associated with the drilling. Surely when the clock strikes 10 p.m., it will stop per a local ordinance. On the little screen, The Dude takes a slug of his white Russian, leaving a creamy white residue around his mouth and mustache. I absentmindedly finger my pearl necklace.

Fortified myself with a bit of cheap Canadian, I call the cops to report the racket at quarter after ten. I am promptly told that nothing can be done by anyone.

Horse shit.

If Bunny Lebowski can charge $1,000 for performing fellatio, something can be effing done! I check my aggression then call Every. Single. Councilperson. As. Well. As. The. Mayor. At. Home. I swear. I implore. I espouse my disbelief, my indignation, my outrage.

Nothing is done.

The generators generate. The drill pounds relentlessly into the earth as I note that, above the Dude’s modest home bar, there hangs a photo of Richard Nixon frozen in the ejaculatory moment just before bowling ball hits bowling lane. I meet and admire Jesus and his tongue and admit to myself that I probably shouldn’t have allowed nine years to transpire before seeing this movie.

What is wrong with me?

The film concludes. I retire. In order to muffle the noise, I sandwich my head between pillows much in the same manner I did when my college roommate entertained gentlemen in the bunk below me some 20 odd years ago. Just as was the case then, the pillows are not much help. Hence, as Mother Earth endures ceaseless penetration throughout the night, I sleep alone and poorly, fractured dreams of Sam Eliot’s extraordinary mustache floating in my head.

Miraculously, at 7:01 a.m., the drilling stops and the beautiful quiet to which I am accustomed blooms. At 7:04 a.m., my husband returns home fresh off the midnight shift. I stumble down the stairs and into the kitchen. He beholds my dark circles and poor coloring while blinking quizzically.

“Life does not stop and start at your convenience,” I say, then turn to the absolution of the coffee pot.

The preceding program was brought to you by Naked Erin

Saintly living

Our fearless leader has cast an intoxicating spell on me under which I am happy to be. However, one of the side effects disallows me to imbed YouTube videos herein.

Behold a YouTube that rocked my face off.

I watched it and sighed. Then I learned that Grant Bailie and John Sheppard were contributors to this “Bible” of contemporary fiction. Bailie was part of “Novel: A Living Installation at Flux Factory, Inc.” in New York in 2005. His first novel “Cloud 8” was a wonderful book wherein the reader steps into the afterlife to find it populated by people who look like Abe Lincoln. His flash fiction delights at every turn.

Erin likey Grant Bailie.

Ed talked to John Sheppard on Bat Segundo about his 2007 novel, “Small Town Punk.” Sheppard fascinated me from the first time I chatted with him and learned that his sister’s murder fueled his writing in part–much like my brother’s suicide had fueled mine.

Cool YouTube book trailer. Cool writers. Cool. Cool. Cool. Oh to walk among the gifted, copiously published, beautiful fiction writers, dreamed I. Oh, to be cool.

Black Arrow Press was still accepting submission for “Santi: Lives of Modern Saints,” so I sent mine along. When it got the thumbs up, I spontaneously combusted with joy. Here is the first paragraph from my story, “Skywriting with King Tut Down at the Little Egypt:”

The pyramid was my favorite thing. It was built out of concrete block, so it was steps all the way up and easy to climb. From the top, I’d look down at the Little Egypt all around and feel like I was floating above the earth. I could stay up there crouched on the rough steps forever, but someone always yelled at me to get down way too soon.

The anthology is scheduled to come out in December 2007. Dig the cover:

santi cover

Stay tuned, boppers.

More link love:

Other contributors include Roy Kesey, Jon Konrath, and Timothy Gager. A complete list is available at the Black Arrow Press page.

O’Brien on Sheppard.

Bailie in a box.

The preceding post was brought to you by Smart Erin.

Two that might have slid under your radar

Steve Hayward’s first novel, “The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke,” is a masterpiece of fiction you may not recognize because it was never released in the United States. This is a small story contrasted against the grand setting of depression-era Toronto. It is funny and accessible and historical. It is simply dazzling–so much so that it won the prestigious international Grinzane Cavour Prize in 2006. When Hayward returned from the prize ceremony in Italy, he sent me photos of the event, including one of himself and Salmon Rushdie. Then he told stories about hanging out with Richard Ford and Derek Walcott.

As usual, I swore at him (“Goddamnit, Hayward!”), but in truth I was proud of him. He’d earned this. Hayward is maddening and brilliant–a writer’s writer to the core. I thought accolades of this caliber would surely mean a big U.S. launch. So far it hasn’t happened.

When you’re done with his novel, read his first short story collection, “Buddha Stevens and Other Stories”–provided you can find it. Why? Because the first installment in that anthology “August 14, 1921,” was simultaneously accepted by The Iowa Review and Crazyhorse and the Greensboro Review.

No shit.

That alone gives you an idea of what sort of writer Steve Hayward is. If we’re lucky, perhaps he will grace the comment section and tell the Erin O’Brien Lucio Burke Erection story.

Next up is Maureen McHugh’s first anthology, “Mother’s and Other Monsters.” Published by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant over at Small Beer Press. The collection was a finalist for the 2005 Story Prize, which carried a $20,000 award. Patrick O’Keeffe beat out McHugh and Jim Harrison with “The Hill Road”. But the two runners-up still received a $5,000 award for the title of finalist. Not bad.

Whenever I’m running a workshop I reference this book. McHugh has a way of juxtaposing impossible topics such as Alzheimer’s disease next to that which is so common, it’s almost invisible, a bowl of macaroni and cheese for instance. Sounds strange, yes, but she does it with the same skill Tim O’Brien uses to scale the horror of the Viet Nam war by setting it next to a packet of KoolAid and a comic book. Call it perfect application of detail. McHugh’s got it in nines.

McHugh and I have been reading and critiquing each other’s work for years, but when I sat down and read this published anthology, her singular talent shone like a beacon.

Here’s a few pertinent links–by no means complete–but you people are smart. You know how to use Google.

Steve Hayward’s (ahem) Wiki page (sorry, but it’s the best I can do).

The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke on Amazon Canada

McHugh’s website.

“Oversight” a short story from “Mothers and Other Monsters”

The preceding program was brought to you by Smart Erin.


I was schlepping around Wikipedia one day and ran across the “Female Ejaculation” article. I found it silly and poorly written/researched and thought it was a perfect example of why Wiki gets sticky. So I recorded myself reading an excerpt of it, which I posted on my blog for fodder. I didn’t think much else about it. That was June of last year. Here is the link.

That ridiculous video has been viewed more than 225,000 times.

Take a few minutes to peruse the comments. I’ve been called everything in the book. I leave them up. They say more about the people who make them than me. Then one gentleman sent me a video on the subject to review. So I did. I have lost count on how many hits that page has garnered. All of this because I read a few hundred words out loud.

Then there was the nest of snakes a reading from one of Kevin Trudeau’s books got me into. Look through those comments. Look at how infuriated some people have become just because I read out loud.

These episodes have mystified and stunned and disgusted me. They have also given me a greater appreciation for the power of words.

Pan and the Housewife

Stepfordian contentment washes over her as she gazes out the picture window, her favorite jelly jar glass lathered with a healthy dose of antibacterial dish soap. The gentle foliage of her backyard wafts to and fro in the wind. She inhales the perfection of her life.

An unnatural motion parts her forsythia bush.

Impossibly, a man steps out into the expanse of grass. The jelly jar slips from her hand and shatters in the sink. His filthy skin, the bulging tattered dungarees. And the axe, the swinging axe. She clutches the Formica counter–something real. Fear and unmistakable arousal blind her to everything but him.

She swallows hard against it.

His arms flail and whip, the axe arcing wildly in the space around him. He stops all motion and locks his eyes onto hers. She is transfixed, unable to move. He punches both arms into the air and bellows out. The scream is primal and terrifying. She startles at the shock of it.

He falls silent, his chest heaving. The hot sun sheens on his body, slick with sweat. She should run. She should scream. The phone, car keys, 911–something.

She does nothing.

Running straight towards the house, he takes the axe in both hands and winds it up behind his head. At once the axe is in flight, cart-wheeling through the air. The plate glass patio door explodes into the kitchen and the axe scatters across the linoleum.

She is paralyzed.

He steps through the ragged hole. The aftermath is silent save the sound of his tortured breath. His animal smell fills her nostrils and fuels the desire beneath her fear.

She is alive.

He lunges towards her. But when the impact comes, it is only to push her aside. He plunges his face into the sink and opens his mouth to the running water. He gulps and gulps and gulps. She starts to speak, but has no words. Her throat is dry.

He stands and drags the back of his hand across his mouth, which smears away dirt and reveals lips lush and full. He rubs at himself, tugging at his filthy pants. In an instant he is naked before her, magnificently aroused.

“Fill me,” she whispers.

Her pants bunched idiotically around one ankle, she is on her back beneath him, inexorably open. Shards of glass dig into her flesh. She cries out in climax and pain, tears squeezing from her eyes.

He bucks and howls, then withdraws and rolls her over with a rough push. Her blood drips from a dozen wounds of varying depth. He sucks and licks each one with the same orgiastic intensity of the coupling. He works his teeth, chewing at the sliced edges of skin.

She is face down in the blood and glass with his seed is both planted and dripping. She blinks through blurred vision at fur-covered haunches. He turns and gallops across the flawless green lawn.

His scream waxes in the distance. She exhales once, twice, three times before finally succumbing to sleep.

The preceding post has been brought to you by Erin O’Brien.

I. Love. Men.

I love their hands and hairy legs and the way they laugh softly when the rest of the world is quiet. I love their chests and arms and the way their mouths taste right after they’ve taken a sip of whiskey.

I love their dicks (I would normally use the word “cock,” but that seems a bit harsh for these pages, and even though I just used the word “cock” I did so within quotation marks, so that makes it different).

Despite my copious experience with men, there are limits on just how close I can get. No matter how many men a woman weds or beds or befriends, she may never witness the exclusive male experience. I’m talking men on men. Never.


As soon as a woman walks into a room full of men, the chemistry of the situation changes. This is true whether she is 20 or 80, gay or straight, wearing a burlap sack or only a thong. She has effectively added a teaspoon of Girl to a barrelful of Boy.

And that is that said the cat in the hat.

I want guys. Guys talking with other guys about guy stuff. Guys drinking beer with other guys. Guys talking about chicks. Guys, guys, guys. I love guys!

So here are four of my favorite guy books. Within their pages, my dream to be a fly on the locker room wall comes as close to fruition as possible.

The Music of Chance by Paul Auster delivers four men unto me. They are Pozzi and Nashe and Flower and Stone. There are Marlboros and poker, the International Brotherhood of Lost Dogs and one (ahem) “hostess.” Put all of this in a surreal mansion wherein headless statues lurk and hamburgers and Cokes are served every Monday night and I am so taking my pants off.

In the Blind** will prove to you that Eugene Martin (be still my heart) is the most brilliant writer you have never read. Don’t believe me? Marten is heartily championed by Gordon Lish. In the blind I find locksmiths and an ex-con, the cavernous cargo hold of an ore boat, a hooker and a roach infested motel. Yes, Mr. Marten. Oh yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Dirty Work was Larry Brown’s first novel. In it, you will meet two Viet Nam vets who are in a VA hospital. One has lost all his limbs, the other’s face is hideously disfigured. Despite this grim premise, Brown will make you laugh, then gape in awe as his bleak characters shine in subtle moments of grace.

One Flew Over Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey. The Chief narrates this book. Candy Starr, McMurphy, Martini and Turkle are all there along withe the rest of the gang you loved from the movie, but does the Chief actually utter, “Juicy Fruit?” Read the book, sugar tits, and find out for yourself.

**The Administration warns all readers clicking the link associated with “In the Blind” to IGNORE the misspelling in the Customer Review section of the page. The Administration cannot control all things all the time and the Administration is sick and tired of stressing over some sniveling little shit who sits at his/her computer all effing day long pointing out shitty and lame errors that don’t amount for shit.

The Administration thanks the reader for the reader’s time.

The preceding post has been brought to you by Erin O’Brien.

Leaving Las Vegas, Johnny, and a monster named Press

My brother John took his life in April 1994, a few weeks after he had signed a contract committing his first novel Leaving Las Vegas to film. The movie went on to garner numerous accolades as well as an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Nicolas Cage.

Myths swarm around Leaving Las Vegas. I found a couple of them on Wikipedia, wherein there were untruths about John’s Rolex and a childhood acting stint. I wrote about them here. A Wikipedian read that article and promptly called for me to be fired and sent off with letters of denunciation. The items were removed, but Wiki discussions immediately ensued, saying that additional sources should be cited before the items I “claimed” to be false were reinstated in the articles. (Hm, maybe Mom and I just don’t remember John traveling from Ohio to Los Angeles at the age of ten in order to appear in a film.)

The Wiki Leaving Las Vegas page is still inundated with errors and conjecture, but I’ve just got too much else to do. Moral: careful what you believe on Wikipedia.

Here’s some things you can believe:

Johnny gifted four copies of his book. One to his wife, one to our parents, one to our maternal grandmother and one to his high school Latin teacher (Mr. Sors was my Latin teacher as well). I am 42 years old and still call Mr. Sors Mr. Sors. He attended my first book signing in autumn 2005.

In the immediate aftermath of John’s death, my father sat at his desk for hour after hour after hour with the death certificate in front of him and nothing else. The box marked “Cause of Death” was so violently blackened with a ball point pen that the paper was torn through.

Johnny loved airplane food.

Dad discovered he had a life-threatening aortic aneurysm within days of John’s suicide. The subsequent surgery nearly killed him. In October 2002, he died suddenly from an aortic dissection while undergoing emergency bypass surgery.

Bob Dylan influenced John more than any other artist. He had his high school diploma made out to “John Dylan O’Brien,” which infuriated my parents. John’s middle name was Steven.

The gun with which he shot himself is in my house. Mom gave it to my husband when she found it after Dad died. “I can’t deal with it,” she said. People look at you quizzically when you tell them you still have the gun. What, I want to ask them, exactly is the correct protocol in this situation?

John thought Stevie Nicks was breathtaking. He also adored Gladys Night.

The assertion that the novel was John’s suicide note was born in a personal letter I wrote to Cage as soon as I learned he was to play Ben. The Movie People glommed onto it, then someone in the media assigned it to Dad and we just left it alone.

John loved the Star Trek episode “The Tholian Web.”

The copy of “Leaving Las Vegas” Johnny gave Gram bore the following inscription:


Saturday I received my first two copies; this is one of them.
I want you to know how much I love you and think about you, how I’ve always felt a special bond between us, and how I wish that we were together right now.
20 May 1991

You can be sure that Stephen Hunter didn’t know about that when he wrote the following about Leaving Las Vegas in the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 17, 1995:

Written by one John O’Brien, a thinly disguised memoir from the hell of his own largely unsuccessful life, it had been published in a small edition of a thousand or so. And it was something else: a suicide note disguised as a novel. O’Brien killed himself before the film went into production.

My guess is that neither did John Stark Bellamy II when he wrote the following in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on June 30, 1996:

Before blowing his brains out in the spring of 1994, the Cleveland native, a sad, terminal alcoholic, wrote “Leaving Las Vegas,” a hellishly disgusting portrait of, well, a sad, terminal alcoholic whose fictional torments owed much to O’Brien’s autobiographical degradation.

Questions of literary merit were almost irrelevant: The book seemed as squirmingly authentic and as unflinchingly graphic as the gritty, award-winning movie that was made after O’Brien’s suicide. Of such stuff are legends made, or as they said in Memphis the day Elvis died: good career move.

That beauty ran in my hometown paper and my parents, Gram and both my paternal grandparents were alive to see it. I read it the same day I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. It was part of a review of The Assault on Tony’s, which was one of two posthumous publications of John’s. I wrote the last chapter of “Tony’s” as well as an afterward, about which I still harbor profound ambivalence. I clearly stated which segments I authored in the afterward and went through painstaking care to keep John’s work as untouched as possible, arguing with editors and proofreaders all through the process. Much of the book was angry, there were copious secret family references. The project was an emotional trauma of the highest order for me. Hence, you can imagine my fury when I read Malcolm L. Johnson commentary that ran in the Hartford Courant on June 23, 1996:

Perhaps inspired by the success of the film version of O’Brien’s first book, the writer’s sister, Erin, addressed herself to the task of completing “Assault.” … Reading “Assault,” a brief novel broken up into terse chronicles of days of slugging back hits of J&B and vodka, one wonders how much of the prose was left behind by John O’Brien, and how much was cooked up by Erin. One hopes that the finished unfinished novel is not what its writer intended, because “Assault” frequently feels both racist and sexist.

The kick is nearly as sharp as it was 11 years ago.

“Tony’s” was all about my brother’s difficult relationship with Dad. Had Johnson contacted me, we could have talked about that, or the fact that I also felt parts of the book were sexist and racist and how that surprised the hell out of me. Maybe then Johnson could have pulled back a layer, written something evocative and meaningful and revealed a truth instead of hurting me.

Some other pertinent links:

Stripper Lessons was John’s other posthumous novel. Despite Amazon’s insistence that this book was written by Maureen O’Brien, it was not. (I just discovered this snafu while writing this post. Wish me luck getting that corrected.)

This is what it’s like to get the phone call.

Here is an interview I did about John and his work for the Italian publication StradaNove.

I am here, John. I see the light and the truth. I hear the sound of falling water. I am writing it all down. I remember. I will protect you, I promise I will protect you. I am your sister.



Reading Report: Irvine Welsh in MPLS

(Note: When you read the headline above, pronounce MPLS as ‘Mipples.’)

Patrick Stephenson here, with literary coverage from Minneapolis, MN. Last night, this reporter attended a reading by the Scottish author Irvine Welsh, famed among tight jeans-wearing Welshtransgressives for such books as TRAINSPOTTING, FILTH, and A SMART CUNT [una novella].

Said reading occurred at 7:30pm in Minneapolis’ Magers & Quinn bookstore, located on Hennepin Ave., the hipster/yuppie locus of uptown. Expecting Chuck Palahniuk-level attendance, I arrived a half hour early with six books, and one DVD, in hand. “You’re not going to be a dick and make him sign all of those are you?” said my friend Ryan. I was, and I did. I am a dick.

Upon arriving, I was surprised to see only one other guy—a bald, cowboy hat-wearing 20 something—in attendance. By the time Mr. Welsh was up to read, however, those numbers had ballooned, with the standing room kinda cramped and every seat filled. Well, every seat except for the two rows immediately in front of Mr. Welsh, to which he said, “There’s two rows up here, so come up and fill them in. It isnae a problem.” Why don’t people ever sit in the front rows at readings? Too shy, I assume.

Before Welsh read, two lingerie-clad burlesque dancers moved through the crowd handing out eclairs. Their presence alluded to Welsh’s new book, BEDROOM SECRETS OF THE MASTER CHEFS, whose front cover features a photo of an eclair entering a full-lipped female mouth, phallus-like, visibly cream-filled. Ryan and I ogled the burlesquers until one reached us, when, with her cleavage in my face, I grabbed an eclair from my big-breasted server’s tray.

Looking quite the ruffian, Welsh stood relaxedly before his admirers, pushing away his podium and settling for mic only. He was, with his iconic bald head, his tattoos and his Scottish accent, completely charming. “I’m so glad we have Groundskeeper Willie now,” he said. “And Shrek, because Americans understand me.” As Welsh read he assumed a stance akin to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow’s in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, with a rock star sway detectable during his performance of three selections from BEDROOM SECRETS. Continue reading →

Who is Erin?

Erin O’Brien is a Cleveland writer with a massive head of hair who sometimes answers to the name Jenna Jameson. Her work has appeared in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Cleveland Free Times, as well as more disreputable publications. She is a member of a neighborhood Bunco group, a housewife of questionable repute, a Playmate and director (Wrestling with the Laundry, the Cleveland Cringe Festival) and a fiction writer (novel: Harvey & Eck). She has decided not to employ a brassiere during the writing of this bio and apologizes to anyone who is inadvertently injured because of it. Se can cook up a pretty good SLT but she cannot make a decent pan of Hamburger Helper to save her life. She also feels very entitled when writing bios about her myriad accomplishments.

Erin O’Brien will contribute something funny or bawdy or irritating or sad more or less once a day on these pages until Our Fearless Leader returns.

The rooster has left the coop.

My name is Matt. I’m from Condalmo, a website at which I have thrown multiple rockin’ literary parties. Ed has, apparently, left the building. He’s left the place to some guest bloggers; I’m one of them. Allow me to lay my first egg (so to speak)…

suckas image

The Modern Letter Project is a site I stumbled on the other night. I shudder at the inclusion of the instant-turn-off term pen pals, but here’s the deal:

The Modern Letter Project is a collaboration between Corie Trancho-Robie and Youngna Park that seeks to revive the lost art of snail mail pen pals. Beginning in March 2007, 140 people joined with us on this journey of letter writing, eager to connect with others the old fashioned way and engage in the fun of new stationery and decorated envelopes, the slowness of postal services and mostly, the thrill of real mail once a month that wasn’t a credit card offer.

Here is how it works:

Each participant receives one address per month for twelve months. For each of those months, they write a total of at least two letters:

1. To the address sent to them
2. A response to the person who has written to them

It is our hope that, at end of the year we will have a network of new pen pals, friends, and a collection of letters to treasure.

I feel it worth sharing because letter writing is a drum I beat from time to time at my site. Like you, I am somewhat chained to my e-mail – kind of difficult to run a blog without it, and easy to use, fast, “free” – wonderful for what it does. But listen: you know it’s different when you need to pay forty-whatever cents to send a letter, and when you’re writing it you want it to be worthwhile, thoughtful, not just something dashed off (as in “dude, I picked up the new Wilco, what’s on for next weekend, signed matty”) – email is to letter as instant message is to e-mail. Shorter and shorter, cramming it in.
With a letter, you’re putting something physical out there, something that can be held, saved. I have a letter from my grandfather. His handwriting was shaky, unsure. His thoughts were unsure. You won’t get that same feeling through an e-mail. Who wants to leave behind no trace for their offspring, no sense of their thoughts and ideas and actual physical presence, save electrons (or whatever) in Google’s massive mainframe? And who is going to weed through your thirty thousand e-mails to find that one important thing you wrote?
E-mail has recused people from letter writing, but I’m here to tell you it’s worth the time. Check this out, and get signed up at the LWP.

(oh, and why does WordPress have to completely suck? Gave me such a hard time with the image, the formatting, etc. Does it always suck this much? I can’t figure out how to add a “guest blogging” category for us, and am done trying, so this one gets filed under Erin O’Brien’s “Breasts”)

Hello. My name is Erin O’Brien.

I have big tits and I drive a Mini Cooper and everything I say is right.

Eff off.

Now here’s a book: Flatland by Edwin Abbott.

This baby is 118 pages and was first published in 1884. It crackles and giggles and winks. It is little and quirky (Jeepers! This book is a lot like me!). In Flatland there are only two dimensions (I have more) and all of the characters are geometric shapes (I am not).

The circles are priests: the controllers of our conduct and shapers of our destiny, the objects of universal homage and almost of adoration.

Irregular polygons are shunned:

I for my part have never known an Irregular who was not also what Nature evidently intended him to be–a hypocrite, a misanthropist, and, up to the limits of his power, a perpetrator of all manner of mischief.

All the women are lines:

For if a soldier is a wedge, a Woman is a needle; being, so to speak, all point, at least at the two extremities. Add to this the power of making herself practically invisible at will, and you will perceive that a Female, in Flatland, is a creature by no means to be trifled with.

You bet your ass I’ve got a point at both ends. As for all you Irregulars out there, why don’t you come up and trifle me sometime?

Since there is no High Priestess category available to me, all of my entries in these pages shall be listed under Breasts as well as others that I deem appropriate.

Oh yeah, I’m a writer.

Erin O'Brien

When Bad Writers Reveal Loneliness

This year’s Bad Sex Prize goes to Aniruddha Bahal for his novel Bunker 13. The winning line: “Her breasts are placards for the endomorphically endowed.”

Discounting celebrities that go out of their way to sign bosoms (a phenomenon I’ve never understood), I’ve never thought of breasts as placards. Placards, by their very definition, are flat. “Endormophically endowed,” which would imply a surfeit of silicone or softness, contradicts that.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: “You see a designer pussy. Hair razored and ordered in the shape of a swastika. The Aryan denominator… “