A.L. Kennedy (BSS #174)

A.L. Kennedy is most recently the author of Day.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Never mind the Bat. Hubba hubba.

Author: A.L. Kennedy

Subjects Discussed: The relationship between the style and the voice, active thought vs. the subconscious, accidental religious cues, whether Kennedy consciously writes difficult books, bizarre Monty Python interpretations, William Hartnell, Doctor Who, the necessity of cultural references in a World War II novel, the books that Alfred reads, character quirks, corporeal disguise, on not being a visual person, recognizing people by smell, sniffing and nibbling, sense language and knowing an idea without knowing why, the relationship between topography and the senses, tail gunners and turrets, the bomber’s moon, not eating for a week, the role of music, group singing, “Jerusalem,” religion and spirituality, cliches, the consoling lie vs. reality, the poetic symbolism within Joyce, dilated pupils and war veterans, the origins of Antrobus, temporal change, poetry in the two World Wars, joining the army to obtain a set of skills for life, prison life, and learning self-defense.


Correspondent: I’m curious. How did you establish how Alfred smells? I mean, what did you do? Did you just go around sniffing various old clothes from World War II or what?

Kennedy: Yeah, certainly. I’d go on and look at Browning .303 machine guns. And if you breathe on them, they smell of gun and they smell of gun oil and they smell of cordite. I’d been in a Lancaster bomber and again breathed on it to try and make it hot. I spent a lot of time sniffing things and nibbling things. Just cause that works. (laughs mischeviously)

Correspondent: Nibbling things? What did you nibble?

Kennedy: Oh, you know, just little corners of — I don’t want to go into that.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Kennedy: Just to get the taste of things. Cause you know…

Correspondent: This fossilized kind of MRE? (laughs)

Categories: Fiction

Best Sex Writing 2008 (BSS #173)

This podcast features a roundtable discussion with contributors for The Best Sex Writing 2008 anthology.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Evading burlesque.

Authors: Rachel Kramer Bussel, Rachel Shukert, Lux Nightmare, Miriam Datskovsky, and Liz Langley.

Subjects Discussed: The meaning and definitions of sex, whether sex is a codeword, semantics, experimentation, George Michael, the erotic nature of taboos, whether candor is an advantage in writing about sex, Amsterdam societal norms, the inability to talk about sex, Sex and the City, appropriate contexts, writing stigmas, pornographic pseudonyms, the effect of sex writing on dating, whether or not Erica Jong is funny, the role of feedback in writing, and alt-weeklies vs. mainstream sex writing.


Datskovsky: It’s kind of like money. It’s one of those things that people are just afraid to talk about. Because you have to be completely honest in order to talk about it. It’s one of those things that people just don’t want to engage in. Because it’s easier not to. It’s easier to say, “Hey, you’re dirty. Oh yeah, I like to do that when the lights are off and then I’m not going to talk about at all.”

Correspondent: You know, call me crazy, but it seems to me that it would be better to ask “Who are you sleeping with?” instead of “What do you do for work?” in terms of a conversational opener.

All: (laughs)

Categories: Ideas

Jami Attenberg (BSS #172)

Jami Attenberg is most recently the author of The Kept Man.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Seduced by the Church of Tequilology.

Author: Jami Attenberg

Subjects Discussed: Adam Sternbergh’s grups article, Terri Schiavo, wondering what people do all day long, the donut girls in Greenpoint, donut shops that stick on the brain, pickup artists, describing objects in relation to their topograhical origin, having relationships with people in the neighborhood, drawing on specific aspects of the art world for fiction, levels of indecisiveness within narrative, the dreamlike state of organic writing, Charles Dodgson, photography, finding the story in revision, Richard Avedon’s In the American West, Nebraska, how Attenberg “meets” her characters in real life, the criteria of “not wanting to know about something,” the difference between the literal and metaphorical meaning of a passage, a cat that planted itself on Our Young, Roving Correspondent’s lap, passive characters, life vs. the preordained structure of a book, on not believing what reviews say, the emotional consistency of a novel, how people judge, obscenities excised by mainstream publishers, the give or take of editing, the class component, subletting apartments, neighbors who die, communicating with a next-door neighbor through IM, and contending with the unanticipated observations of readers.


Attenberg: Grups. I’m not that familiar with that term. What is it?

Correspondent: Grups. There was this big brouhaha. In fact, Neal Pollack, who I noticed that you had in the acknowledgments section, he was actually quoted in the article. It’s basically short for “grown-ups.” It comes from a Star Trek episode. And Adam Sternbergh wrote this long article bemoaning those who are in their thirties — the alternadads and that kind of thing.

Attenberg: Oh, like the grown-up yuppies.

Correspondent: Exactly.

Attenberg: Oh yeah. I guess it sort of started with the three men. The three kept men in the book. I really just wanted to write about them. And I really noticed a lot of people around Williamsburg, where I live. And they just seemed to have a lot of time on their hands. And I started meeting men who had much wealthier wives. And they were all sort of artistic and vaguely pursuing their path. And so I became fascinated with that.

(A longer excerpt from this interview can be found here.)

Categories: Fiction

Sue Miller (BSS #171)

Sue Miller is most recently the author of The Senator’s Wife.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wary of Washington’s workings.

Author: Sue Miller

Subjects Discussed: Character names, the New Left, Tom Hayden vs. Tom Naughton, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, setting a story in the early Clinton years, Updike’s Terrorist, the reticence of older writers writing about certain aspects of the contemporary world, goat cheese and blue ink, American food metaphors, Paris, Old World attitudes towards privacy, French Presidents and adultery, using italics in dialogue and interior monologue, admonishments from editors, characters who contend with poverty from an intellectual vantage point, prose description that balances action with physical characteristics, white liberal guilt, appetite and privacy, ethics and how characters are presented to the reader, topographical environment and detail, the drawings that mark the edges of Miller’s early drafts, and doodling.


Miller: Asa, I like, because you can call him Ace. Which his brother does. And Meri, I thought of — it’s her nickname. But quite honestly, they just seemed interesting to me.

Correspondent: But the marriage connotation had not occurred to you?

Miller: It had not occurred to me at all. Yeah.

Correspondent: Interesting. Interesting. Even with Naughton too?

Miller: No.

Correspondent: (laughs) Really?

Miller: It’s all up to you. Whatever you want to put in…

Correspondent: But it’s so there though, you know?

Miller: Well, absolutely, if you think it’s there, it’s there.

Correspondent: Okay, fair enough. Fair enough.

Miller: And I’ll take credit for it too.

Correspondent: Sure. It was your great genius that concocted this.

Categories: Fiction

Amy Bloom (BSS #170)

Amy Bloom is most recently the author of Away.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Momentarily replaced by an obnoxious sportscaster filling in.

Author: Amy Bloom

Subjects Discussed: Opening a novel with a protagonist immersed within the Yiddish Theater, coloring a story with tragedy vs. getting to know a character, the 57 blocks of the Lower East Side, the immigrant experience, the famous name of Burstein, the theme of power, bringing in ethnic supportive characters, compressing many events into a small book, getting a sideways visceral glimpse, not getting to see or know everything in a book, whether some narratives are “fair,” Alaska and Bloom’s mental landscape, the quest and narrative, the follies of existential journeys, Bloom’s abandoned mystery novel in a drawer, plotting, the artistic mediums that Bloom has not tried, and abandoning the vocation of psychotherapy.


Correspondent: Would someone like Lillian have been as likely to run into people like Gumdrop and Chinky and look for someone similar to her own self if such a person actually existed? Or because it was this removal that…?

Bloom: Yes, if we had stayed in the Lower East Side, it would have been a different story. It would have been, you know, Call It Sleep. It would have been something else. It would have been Herman Wouk’s City Boy, which is actually a wonderful book. But it wouldn’t have been this book. This book is much more, as my younger daughter said when she finished it, “Oh my! It’s like Ulysses with women and Jews.” And I thought, I’m all right with that.

Categories: Fiction

2007 National Book Awards (BSS #169)

This special podcast is a collection of journalistic experiments carried out on November 14, 2007 at The National Book Awards.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Kidnapped by an army of experimental journalists.

Guests: Sherman Alexie, Fran Lebowitz, Levi Asher, Nicholas Delbanco, Jim Shepard, Steve Wasserman, Tayari Jones, Sara Zarr, Joshua Ferris, Jonathan Franzen, and Christopher Hitchens.

Subjects Discussed: People who look pretty, growing beards, the possibilities of Sherman Alexie growing a Van Dyke, honesty in the YA world, tips on how to emcee an awards ceremony, the nature of entertainment at award ceremonies, political fighting, clucking on stage, medals, authors and racehorses, whiskey and preparation, asking writers to agree on something, dark horse fiction authors, tuxedos and ties, whether awards promote the serious reading of literature, being confused with another African-American author, Story of a Girl, the first person plural, Joshua Ferris’s second novel, why Jonathan Franzen will never be your Facebook friend, and Christopher Hitchens’s faith in contemporary authors.


Alexie: It’s good to be here. Everybody looks pretty. So…

Correspondent: Do I look pretty? You look pretty.

Alexie: You look very pretty in fact. Your beard looks nicely trimmed and it has the auburn highlights in it.

Correspondent: Yeah, yeah. It’s like three weeks’ growth.

Alexie: Oh right. So there you go. Is it for luck or something? Did you…?

Correspondent: Well, for the winter actually. I thought I’d look distinguished this way. But this is about you, not about me.

Alexie: (laughs) Well, I can grow a beard. But only three spots. So I’d look rather Ewok-like, I think.

Correspondent: Maybe you should try for a Van Dyke.

Categories: Fiction