Brent Spiner (BSS #233)

Brent Spiner is most recently a producer and performer on the album, Dreamland.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Ducking his head and dodging paranoid crooners.

Guest: Brent Spiner

Subjects Discussed: Natural reverb, conversational limitations, co-owning a recording studio with Dave Way, being a control freak, the shaky profitability of the music industry, self-distributing a CD through Bellarama, David Byrne’s DIY article, the lack of response from magazines and newspapers vs. the response from blogs and online sites, being restricted by self-production, the distribution for Ol’ Yellow Eyes is Back, getting mechanical rights for the songs, merging “I Love You” with “Nice and Easy,” the difficulties of getting Cole Porter’s “Let’s Fall in Love,” DJ Giagni, tap dancing and footfalls, sound effects, maracas that appear on the left speaker, arguments for and against the older man-younger woman musical trope, certain elements that are holding back Dreamland from being transposed to a live performance, the belting quality of Spiner’s voice, wrestling, Spiner’s extraordinary claims as an opera singer, Mark Hamill as a figure to help smooth over the rancor between two popular science fiction franchises, growing up in Houston, the demolition of the Shamrock Hilton in June 1987, Cecil Pickett and the brothers Quaid, Randy Quaid and Actors’ Equity, Spiner’s complex feelings for Rutger Hauer, Hauer and Whoopi Goldberg, taking umbrage with YouTube commenters, working with Maude Maggart, signing on for a six-year contract for a show that rhymes with “car wreck,” committing to a project without knowing when it will end, Threshold, negotiating the limitations of television, the relationship between art vs. commerce, why Spiner moved to Los Angeles, Superhero Movie, living like a college student vs. an adult lifestyle, and the trappings and consistent struggles of being an actor.


Correspondent: I should observe that you grew up in Houston.

Spiner: Yes.

Correspondent: Of course, for a long time, the Shamrock Hilton was there.

Spiner: Right.

Correspondent: And what is rather unusual is that it was demolished in June 1987, which almost exactly coincides with your big break on the show that shall not be named. I was wondering if you ever contemplated this connection, and whether the hotel [in Dreamland] may have jumped out because of this. Why did you choose the hotel? And what of the Shamrock Hilton?

Spiner: You know what, Ed, I’m not sure what the question is really. And I’m not even sure you know what the question is.

Correspondent: No, no, I’m just throwing associations at you.

Spiner: Yeah, you know what?

Correspondent: I figured that you can handle this.

Spiner: Let me say, and I will say the word, I did Star Trek purposefully because of the demise of the Shamrock Hotel.

Correspondent: Yeah. I knew it.

Spiner: There was no other reason that I took that job. When they told me…

Correspondent: …that Houston was dead to you.

Spiner: Yeah, Houston was dead to me once the Shamrock Hilton was gone. But let me just say this. How do you know about the Shamrock Hilton?

Correspondent: I just am curious.

Spiner: Are you from Houston?

Correspondent: No, I’m not. I’ve never actually been in Texas, aside from, I believe, a layover. But I just knew about it. I knew that big people came through there.

Spiner: Yup. Oh! Please.

Correspondent: And so I figured you hung out there.

Spiner: I did.

Correspondent: When these big people made their way through there.

Spiner: I once saw Mel Torme at the Shamrock.

Correspondent: Really?

Spiner: At the Shamrock pool. Walking fast. And even more importantly, I once saw Jock Mahoney doing chin-ups outside by the Shamrock pool.

Correspondent: Did you talk with these folks when you were there?

Spiner: You know, I didn’t. I wish I’d talked to Jock Mahoney, which is another story altogether.

Categories: Film, People

Sarah Manguso (BSS #232)

Sarah Manguso is most recently the author of The Two Kinds of Decay.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating fifty-five additional states of decay.

Author: Sarah Manguso

Subjects Discussed: David Markson, sentences that originate in other formats, fan mail, whether a paragraph is truly a paragraph, problems with typesetting nomenclature, remembering personal moments at 1,000 words a day, word arrangement units (“WAUs”), themes vs. timeline, organic vs. inorganic writing, unrecognized planning mechanisms, thinking of the reader, Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States, syntactic barriers and foreshadowing meaning, mosaic tiles, the goofy perils of being called a poet, incidental metaphors, the engine of intelligence getting in the way, the uncertainty of employment, the solipsistic degrees of writing, stumbling upon a cohesive idea of what the universe entails, other memoirs of illness, categorization and after-the-fact marketing, reading fiction while writing, John Cheever’s Falconer, surveillance and paranoia, the alphabetical pursuit of hobbies, and the identity of the famous writer baffled by the idea of a hobby other than writing.


Manguso: I thought of the pieces as an arrangement in two phases. The first phase was completely chaotic and the second phase was orderly. And during the chaotic first draft phase, the project that I set myself was really just to try to remember everything I could remember about this nine-year period in my life. Just everything. Every individual memory that I could bring up. And after my latest revision had lasted seven years, after that time, it really did seem that the memories had become particulate. Like there really was just one memory that espoused the insertion of the first central line in my chest. And it really did seem to have hardened in my memory into this item, this thing, this chunk of this chapter. And so while I was first writing the book, I didn’t think about chronology. Mainly because I had no idea how to write a book about one thing. I’d never done it before. And I didn’t know anything about narrative or what should come first. I really just wrote the pages all as individual files. And once I couldn’t remember anything else, I printed them all out and tried to notate based on memory and based on asking people what months and what year each thing had happened. And then I just put them in chronological order.

Correspondent: Well, there’s specific phrasing for some of these “thingies.” Pardon my…

Manguso: Let’s call them chapters now. I think that sounds more professional.

Correspondent: These particular word arrangement units. WAUs. Wows?

Manguso: Wows.

Correspondent: We’ll call them wows. Or waz.

Manguso: I’m going to call them chapters. But I like wow.

Correspondent: You often have text within text. With this italicization. But you have a particular timeline. Because you often use “the day before the decision I wrote” or “I wrote this three months after the diagnosis.” And so it seems that not only arranging these wows into themes, but also into a timeline. I’m wondering how you place prioritization upon a theme over a timeline. Were there certain circumstances? Was this entirely an organic process? Or was there just a lot of tinkering around with order and with rhythm? The way we were talking about this, it almost seems like this quarto of some sort.

Manguso: Well, I wish I knew. I’m not really sure how to differentiate an organic process from an inorganic process.

Correspondent: Okay. Let’s just say blindly intuitive vs. carefully planned and calculated.

Manguso: Well, at the risk of sounding difficult, I’m really trying my best to remember what it was like to write this book. But I made the thing. And the thing is a result of my guiding intelligence engaged with my memory. And I don’t know if I can really distinguish between the decisions that were more intellectual than intuitive. Or more intuitive than intellectual. I wish I knew. It is true that, after the book was done or after the final draft was done, it does seem that there were themes that had been inserted or injected into the book by some planning mechanism that I didn’t really recognize. But I think that’s kind of a familiar recognition to have after you make a thing. It makes sense in ways that you weren’t exactly planning. I’d rather not say that the whole thing is mysterious to me. But I think enough of it is that I’m hesitant to say, “Well, I meant to this, this, and this.” I don’t know what I really meant.

Correspondent: Well, I mean, how much should we be really dwelling upon dichotomies?

Categories: Ideas, People

Paul Auster (BSS #231)

Paul Auster is most recently the author of Man in the Dark.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Opening himself up to explanation.

Author: Paul Auster

Subjects Discussed: Starting a novel from a title, the advance titles contained within The Book of Illusions, the working title of The Music of Chance, Mr. Blank, the relationship between Travels in the Scriptorium and Man in the Dark, shorter baroque novels vs. longer naturalistic novels, the use and non-use of quotation marks within speech, the writing history of The Brooklyn Follies, the political nature of ending novels, the 2000 presidential election, parallel worlds, the death of Uri Grossman, didactic novels, the comfort of books, the Auster eye-popping moment, the party scene in The Book of Illusions, violence, reminding the reader that he is in a novel, emotional states revealed through imaginary material, Vermont’s frequent appearance in Auster’s novel, Virginia Blaine as the shared element between Brill and Brick in Man in the Dark, magic, The Invention of Solitude, memorializing memory, Rose Hawthorne, website archives, Auster’s relationship with the Internet, having an email surrogate, Auster’s concern for specific dollar amounts in Man in the Dark and Oracle Night, Hand to Mouth, Auster’s reading habits, the 8-10 contemporary novelists Auster follows closely, being distracted, the intrusive nature of the telephone, diner moments in Auster’s most recent novels, perception and stock situations, summaries of books and films within Auster’s books, and intimate moments in great movies.


Correspondent: I wanted to ask you about something that I’ve long been interested in your books, and that is your concern for specific dollar amounts. Again, it plays up here in the Pulaski Diner, where everything is five dollars. And I also think about the scenario with M.R. Chang in Oracle Night, in which there’s the whole situation between the ten dollar notebook and the ten thousand dollar notebook.

Auster: Right.

Correspondent: And again it becomes completely, ridiculously violent. But there is something about the propinquity of the dollar amount that you keep coming back to in your work. What is it about money? And what is it about a specific figure like this?

Auster: It’s funny. I never, never thought about that. Wow. Well, listen, money’s important. Everyone cares about money. And when you don’t have money, money becomes the overriding obsession of your life. I wrote a whole book about that.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Auster: Hand to Mouth. And the only good thing about making money is that you don’t have to think about money. It’s the only value. Because if you don’t have it, you’re crushed. And for a long period in my life, I was crushed. And so maybe this is a reflection of those tough years. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Correspondent: Or maybe there is something absurd about a specific dollar amount or something. I mean, certainly, when I go to a store and I see that something is set at a particular dollar amount or it fluctuates, it becomes a rather ridiculous scenario. Because all you want to do is get that particular object.

Auster: Yes, yes, yes. But often in my books, people don’t have a lot of money in their pockets. So they have to budget themselves carefully.

Correspondent: Well, not always. You tend to have characters like, for example in The Brooklyn Follies, people who have a good windfall to fall back on and who also offer frequently to help pay for things, and their efforts are often rejected out of pride by your supporting characters. And so again, money is this interesting concern. But I’m wondering why you’ve held on to this notion. It’s now thirty years since the events depicted in Hand to Mouth. I mean, is this something you just haven’t forgotten about?

Auster: I guess I haven’t forgotten about it. (laughs)

Correspondent: Do you still pinch pennies to this day?

Auster: No, no, no. Not at all. No, I’m not a tightwad at all.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Auster: I’m generous. I give good tips. It’s just — the way I live my life, ironically enough, is: I don’t want anything. I’m not a consumer. I don’t crave objects. I don’t have a car. We don’t have a country house. We don’t have a boat. We don’t have anything that lots of people have. And I’m not interested. I barely can go shopping for clothes. I find it difficult to walk into stores. The whole thing bores me so much. I guess the only thing that I spend money on is cigars and food and alcohol. Those are the main expenses.

Correspondent: Not books?

Auster: No. Because our library in the house is so bursting, we have no more room. We have things on the floor. And books come into the house at the rate of — you see, three came today for example. I’m pointing to them on the table. So we’re just inundated with books.

Categories: Fiction

Jenny Davidson (BSS #230)

Jenny Davidson is most recently the author of The Explosionist.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Investigating the veracity of explosions.

Author: Jenny Davidson

Subjects Discussed: Coincidental run-ins, the necessity of war, Edmund Burke, philosophical asides, a novelist’s use of argument, Agatha Christie novels, John Buchan, ending chapters on cliffhangers, early 20th century British adventure fiction, alternate universes, Tolstoy as theologian, research undertaken years in advance of writing a novel, forgetting things one makes up, world-building as you go along, Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon, thought experiments, rationality vs. emotions, historical plausibility exemplified by electric kitchens, junk science, lie detectors, spiritualism vs. organized religion, Arthur Conan Doyle, Herbert Sidgewick, radios talking to ghosts, post-9/11 sensibility, danger of terroristic attacks in public places, narrative serving the needs of the world, novels as problem-solving exercises, tradeoff between security and civil liberties, fiction as a means of addressing political issues, productive forgetting, contemplation hindering the creative process, the internal responsibility to finish a trilogy, Margo Rabb, YA and genre categorization, voracious and eclectic reading, the difficulties of writing a good book, John Banville, cynical motivations for writing genre novels, freedom afforded by academic institutions, meaningful distinctions between YA and adult fiction, Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, whether authors should worry about book marketing, leaving publishing concerns to the experts, Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows, James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head, Sigmund Freud broadcasting via pirate radio, possible references to The Man in the High Castle and Brave New World, suicide booth trope in Golden Age SF novels, inventions by Alfred Nobel’s father, seals trained to drag bombs on ships, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Sherlock Holmes, exclamation marks, italicized words, exclamations as metaphor for genre writing, cockamamie explanations in the exposition, nostalgia for British children’s literature, ratio for invention and ambiguity, classroom scenes as an acceptable setting for fiction, reclusiveness, the enthusiasm and passion of boy characters, tension between female school roommates, Muriel Spark as a “great novelist of a small group”, sociological interest in dynamics of schools and boarding houses, Scottish dialect, peculiarities of diction, willful delving into uncomfortable territory, standing by sentences, emotional ethical questions about truthfulness, relationship between style and ethics, when writing is “too showy”, Thomas Paine, self-pity as antithesis to good writing, blindness to self-justifying elements of prose, Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, Ernest Hemingway’s style, David Foster Wallace as self-parody, David Copperfield, the purity of the unwritten sentence.


Correspondent: Well, going back to one of the many questions that I just asked you about the idea of concocting this alternative universe, was it a matter of working within a loose world here? I mean, in a way, this book reminded me very much of a Michael Moorcock alternative history, like the Hawkmoon books that he wrote, which have only a few existing elements which suggest what may have happened. But it’s largely an excuse. This particular book gave Moorcock the freedom to explore this notion of ideas that have spun off into other terribly mutated forms. And I wanted to ask how this idea of worldbuilding relates to this idea of exploring ideologies, of which I plan to ask you more about.

Davidson: I think that’s a really fair description. And I find in my academic writing, as well as in my fiction writing, I’m strongly right now in a counterfactual mode, where it’s the thought experiment appeal. If this was different, and the thing that you make different — like, in this case, what if 1930s Scotland was still really being run in a way that was consistent with the ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment. No swerve into the 19th century and these different snails of thought. What if we really went back to those core ideas of rationality and the emotions? That was my most fundamental counterfactual for this novel. The set of questions that came up around that. And what if you were a teenage girl growing up in a country that was being run along those principles? That was at the core of my interest in the topic and what made me want to write the book. So the other stuff is for fun, and the stuff that comes up around that once you start thinking that way. But I guess in a sense, I’m not so much writing alternate history as a novel of ideas type thing. Where the premise of altering something in the past allows me to get a clear grip on some idea like that. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how we categorize these different genres anyway.

Correspondent: So you’re saying in the end that where it’s set, or when it’s set, really does not matter because it is a novel of ideas? Is that what you’re suggesting here? And that the world, or the alternative universe, is more of a fun component towards entering the story?

Davidson: Well, I think the sense that you get — at least I hope the sense that you get — I’m clearly a writer who is in love with densely realized and realistic particulars that are historically plausible in some sense. So that, for instance, the storeroom with the electric kitchens, and all the sense that electricity is transformative and the way of future — that’s very realistic. I mean, that was a real feature. And a lot of the things in the novel that seem slightly fantastical, I drew from historical sources. I don’t mean so much to say that it’s a novel of ideas, as I mean to say it’s more like regular historical fiction than alternate history. Because, in fact, in very many particulars, the world of Sophie’s 1938 Scotland is like the world of real 1938 Scotland.

Categories: Fiction

Ross Raisin (BSS #229)

Ross Raisin is the author of God’s Own Country (UK title)/Out Backward.


(Please note: This discussion deals at length with many of the Yorkshire terms that Mr. Raisin uses within his novel. Please consult this lexicon if you’d like to know more.)

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Abdicating to a helium-impaired fill-in host.

Author: Ross Raisin

Subjects Discussed: Schizophrenia, designing a particular voice and the relationship to environment, talking in a peculiar way, reference books, snickets, the relationship between topography, reference books, and reality, looking through books, cookbooks, foreshadowing, talking with animals, verbs transferred to nouns, subconscious immersion into language, the third-person origins of God’s Own Country, the rhythmic origins of the lexical voice, “gleg” vs. “gawp,” the frequency of words for specific meaning, the Yorkshire vernacular, working as a waiter vs. working as a writer, nouns from specific regions in England, trunklements, the etymology of “bogtrotter,” crammocky creel, jarp and Easter, Nobbut a Lad, ferntickles, “upskittled” and ninepins, nouns transferred to verbs, “normaltimes,” “gleg,” and “chuntering” — the most frequent words in the book, snitter, references to Dracula, the concern for backsides within the book, The Butcher Boy, literary attempts to understand the monster, being ransacked by Raisin, Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory, separation between style and content, tankards and chalices, the historical cycle of gentrification within bars and restaurants, and stools vs. metal buffets.


Correspondent: There are a number of Yorkshire terms in which you take a verb meaning and you transfer it into a noun. And so everything is inverted. Even his communicative methods with the animals, as well as his particular idiosyncratic way of talking to the reader, which is presumably the only person he has to talk with aside from his parents and the like. And how this notion of inversion essentially announced itself. Was this more of a subconscious immersion in language on your part? Or a conscious decision to take a verb and transfer it to noun form and the like?

Raisin: The whole thing with the language being in that peculiar idiomatic language didn’t come about immediately. It came about as a result of thinking about character and wanting to think about a character who was very much inside their own strange little world. And one of the main ways you can achieve that is through language. And so I started experimenting with different ways of working with language. And that’s how it turned into a first-person book. Actually, it was initially third-person. Okay, some of the language in it. Most of it is a real Yorkshire language. Sort of a different melange of different parts of Yorkshire, to be honest. And a lot of it is invented. It actually came more out of rhythm — it began with rhythm — more than actual lexicon. And so I got a real feel for this rhythm of the landscape, and the way that transposed into the voice. And then through the second draft, I suppose, I started inserting all these words. And a lot of them are verbs actually. Like glegging and blathering and all these kind of blunt Yorkshire, quite masculinized words that he peppers his language with.

Correspondent: But “gleg” comes from the Scottish noun. Alert and quick to respond.

Raisin: Is that right?

Correspondent: That’s at least what I discovered. And I’m wondering where you transformed it into more of a verb. And also the difference between “gleg” and “gawp” as well. Because he gawps at some points and glegs at others.

Raisin: Well, a gleg is more of a brief look. It’s more of a glance, I suppose. And a gawp is a more of staring. But that’s quite an interesting point actually. Because when you’re writing the book, you become so observed with it. And I’m convinced that these words that I’ve researched, they’re Yorkshire words. And I hold them very preciously. They’re Yorkshire words. And then you tell them to somebody else, and they say, “Oh yeah. We use that word.”

Categories: Fiction

Ethan Canin (BSS #228)

Ethan Canin is most recently the author of America America.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Examining his miserable relationship with America.

Author: Ethan Canin

Subjects Discussed: Neil Diamond’s “America,” the stuttering titular impulse, the Corvair, journalists as heroes, intentional vs. unintentional symbols, the reporter’s instinct, “the ingenuity of the working man,” ideology, the politics of generosity, didacticism in fiction, writing a novel from the point of view from Karl Rove, the four things it takes to be a writer, the declivity of politics during the past thirty years, economic opportunities, philosophy and fiction, print vs. blogs, journalists exploited by big money, Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick, Mike Gravel, Lyndon Johnson’s body language, Robert Caro, Ed Muskie, Corey Sifter’s possible alternative history, the Washington Post revisiting the Condit-Levy affair, playing with the public record, the first draft of America America, the risk of reading books while writing, speeches and autopsy reports embedded in the text, playing with names, David Duke, names serving as placeholders, John Updike’s review, subconscious references to the exchange of information, Geoffrey Wolff’s spoiler review in the NYTBR, Ed Muskie’s tears vs. Hillary Clinton’s tears, the emotional connection of narrative, drawing from reality vs. drawing from objective data, authenticity, and writing short stories vs. novels.


Canin: I wish I could act as if there was something more intentional. I’m a little tired here.

Correspondent: Oh, that’s okay.

Canin: Perhaps there was a little more intentionality on my part, but there really wasn’t. But that was just one of those things.

Correspondent: I hope this conversation is intentional. Or unintentional.

Canin: Yeah, it will start to get intentional.

Correspondent: Okay, let’s go into greater ambiguities. This is quite a pasture that you have in this book. The protagonist, Corey Sifter, he writes repeatedly about operating on a reporter’s instinct. Likewise, you have Liam Metarey and the Senator frequently invoking the ingenuity of the working man.

Canin: Right.

Correspondent: And yet, it seems to me that all parties — both these two parties — don’t understand these ideologies that they inhabit, or that they endorse in some sense. And so it seems to me that this particular book is almost this interesting glimpse into ideology. I wanted to ask how much ideology was encroaching upon you during the act of writing or…

Canin: Could I go back? Just stop a sec.

Correspondent: Oh yeah.

Canin: Because that’s too many ideas for me to hold at once.

Correspondent: Oh sure.

Canin: But the first thing you said was probably the thing that motivated me to write this book. And then when I get through that, I’ll be able to grasp the other question.

Correspondent: Sure.

Canin: I think writing a book is asking a question. It’s not answering a question. At least for me. And one of the questions that evolved as I wrote this was this history of public-minded, empathetic — what are supposed to be called liberal-minded politicians. And my own term, that I’ve been using during the past few days, is the politics of generosity. And there’s a history of them. From Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Ted Kennedy. Great liberal public-minded people who are also unquestionably from the land of gentry. And the central question — there was a reviewer in the Washington Post who said something very interesting, I thought. Which was that the book boils down to the narrator wondering whether he’s been helped or used.

And that’s right. That’s what it felt like to me. That’s what I was writing about. A narrator wondering whether he’s been helped or used. Whether these great public-minded political figures are, in fact, public-minded or self-serving. Or whether that even matters, as long as they’re public-minded. And how far that public-mindedness goes. I’m enough of a realist to think that everybody is self-interested. And we have to just use politicians who are at least generous in their interpretation of self-interest.

Correspondent: Yeah. But there is this notion of ideology that all the characters seem to cling to. Particularly the antipodean ends that we’re talking about. Of the working-class journalist-to-be vs. the Senator and this monied family in this particular town. And this makes me want to ask you about the idea of didacticism in fiction. It’s almost as if you’re skirting around that by exploring these questions in this particular book in a manner that leaves a sliver ask these broader questions without necessarily being didactic. And I’m curious about the element of didacticism in this particular book. It’s not overtly didactic. But the irony, such as Glen driving the Corvair and the like, certainly cause one to think that this is essentially a dialectic involving ideology in this particular book. And I want to ask you about this.

Canin: I was reading last night at the Upper West Side. And somebody asked me if I could write a novel from the point of view of Karl Rove.

Correspondent: (laughs) It would be interesting.

Canin: (laughs) Well, I actually think I could. I don’t think I could do anything. But I think I would be interested in doing that. You know, I don’t know what succeeded and what didn’t in this book. And I never will. But I do know that I certainly intended every character to be a mix. I certainly intended every character to be part good, part bad. From the heroes to the obvious villains. Those are the books that I like. I don’t like movies with heroes and villains. I don’t like books with heroes and villains, which is even worse. I think empathy is the thing.

It takes four or five things to be a writer. Decent prose style.

Correspondent: That’s one. What are the other four? (laughs) I want a list here, man.

Categories: Fiction

Kathryn Harrison (BSS #227)

Kathryn Harrison is most recently the author of While They Slept.


Condition of Mr. Segundo:: Grappling with death and emergencies.

Author: Kathryn Harrison

Subjects Discussed: Opening the novel with a stark transcript of a 9/11 call, exchange incongruities, differences between text and spoken word, lack of annotation, true crime as a writing choice, the Keddie murders, not being a journalist, Binky Urban, impetus for writing about the Gilleys, Random House contractual obligations, voice of reason versus “gut-level” response, Jody Gilley’s memoir attempts, compartmentalization, investigating other people’s lives, a “blow-by-blow” account of murder, depending on and reconstructing other people’s memories, boundary issues, having “the same painful interview over and over again”, similarities to police officers and lawyers, Jody’s severing of her previous life, constructing a linear timeline, index cards versus notebooks, repeated viewing of traumatic events like 9/11, collating differing accounts to create a “master version”, letting the reader decide the final word, credibility with regards to interpretation, Billy Gilley’s continued appeal of the murder conviction, prison interviews, underwire bras, advice about what to wear to prison, weird overtones, Thad Guyer, fear that Billy wouldn’t see Harrison after she drove to prison, writing about things “not discussed in polite company”; sitting in a prison visiting area, Billy’s loneliness and lack of contact with the outside world, not letting him get off-topic, her husband not relishing continued correspondence with Billy, dishonesty about feelings with regards to his little sister Becky, evading direct questioning, Becky as a “wet bar of soap” in conversation, depersonalizing murder victims, Harrison’s theory of the murders, Billy’s volcanic rage against his father, Harrison mixing in her own story, The Kiss, misconception about revisiting hot-button subjects, the unnatural prospect of Harrison “getting over” her incestuous relationship, breaking lives into two pieces, seeing aspects of herself in the Gilley children, fantasies about killing her father, memoir/true crime hybrids, the conceit of the first draft, Harrison’s personal experience as a “hook” to tell a story of 20-year old murders, the process of narrative and what it can do, truth and subjectivity in memoir, the mutual exclusiveness of facts and story, James Frey and Augusten Burroughs memoir fiascos, self-mythology in A Million Little Pieces, memoir as a narcissistic process or digging around in the muck, emotional truth, Peter DeVries’ The Blood of the Lamb, ethical issues of Harrison giving money and magazine subscriptions to Billy, potential for compromised content, Jody’s bookishness and craving Harlequin romances, Flowers in the Attic, reading voraciously and defensively as a way to escape reality, The Brothers Karamazov, using romance novels as a means of finding out how normal people treated each other, reverse escapism, the disconnect between Jody’s current accomplishments and what is inside her head, balancing the Gilley murders with Harrison’s family life, unwitting parallels, family as salvation from becoming a monster, obsessive work habits, burdens sliding off her shoulders.


Harrison: I worked from a number of documents and sources. And I didn’t feel that I could do better than to begin with that exchange between Jody and the 911 operator. Because it really showed so much about who she was. The level of her diction. Her way of saying what had happened. “I think my father’s killed my parents and my sister.” And the 911 operator’s conversely saying, “What? Did he not like them or something?” And she’s saying, “Well, I guess.” It was an economical way of introducing a number of things that would come up later in the book. And it’s pretty compelling, I think.

Correspondent: Yeah. I was actually going to ask you about that exchange, where he brings up, “I guess he didn’t like your parents.” It just struck me as so — where did this come from? It’s as if he couldn’t process what had happened.

Harrison: Yeah. That, and just the incongruity of it. It had that sort of immediacy and authenticity that spoke for itself. Not the kind of thing that you could — I couldn’t have synthesized or summarized anything as eloquent as that tape from the 911 operator. And it really just introduced what the book was about. This is also a story about a family being murdered.

Correspondent: Was it also a case too — I mean, text can only go so far. Is there something that may be missing because we aren’t hearing the actual audio transcript? Like even without that exchange that we just talked about, are there inflections within Jody’s voice of just being in shock or being in catatonia?

Harrison: Oh, I’m sure. That would be true of the written word as opposed to the spoken word. It does have annotations about points in which she starts to cry and she hesitates. I think that some level of panic and disorientation comes through. But it’s never going to replace the sound of the voice.

Categories: Ideas, People

The Save Segundo Campaign

First off, I want to thank all of the people who have written with their concerns and kind words about The Bat Segundo Show. I have received messages from listeners all over the world — including France, Sweden, Japan, and Norway. I was also extremely honored by Colin Marshall’s kind writeup at The Sound of Young America blog — especially humbling, given that I’ve greatly enjoyed both Sound and The Marketplace of Ideas — and Carolyn Kellogg’s post at The Los Angeles Times. This has all stunned me. The upshot is that, while my stats have reflected a solid audience of roughly 5,000 to 10,000 listeners per show, it appears that more of you may be listening to this show than I’ve realized. I’ve learned from some of you that podcasts downloaded from this site have recirculated. MP3s have been burned onto CDs for road trips. Files have been swapped onto other computers and MP3 players.

Because of this, I believe we are in the position to not only set a major precedent for a web-based radio program, but at a juncture where we can ensure that these interviews keep on going.

Here is what we have done. There have been talks with a number of parties about how we can sustain Segundo. And we’ve come up with a few ideas. We intend to carry out a three-prong plan that, if successful, will keep the show running through the end of the year at a rate of eight shows per month. Should this plan work, I believe that we can make Segundo self-sustaining, increasing both the program’s frequency and its range.

But before I reveal the details of our campaign, I have some news. There have been a few conversations with radio stations about distributing Segundo. While talks remain ongoing with a few of these outlets, I’m happy to report that, on August 2008, Litstation will be airing the first 230 installments on a nightly basis over the next year. The show will air at midnight. Some of the shows — meaning those that run over an hour — will be slightly modified to fit programming needs. But they will more or less be airing as they originally appeared here. Shortly after I finish with this project, I’m also going to be splitting the shows up into 28:30 blocks. The idea here is to have syndication packages ready for both one hour and half-hour formats so that the show can be distributed in many forms. If you are a radio program director interested in distributing Segundo (the perks include custom intros for your station and a few other frills), please email me and I’ll be happy to discuss the details.

However, I believe that the Web is Segundo’s predominant home. It is the Web that I plan to prioritize first. The biggest problem in getting public radio interested in Segundo is the show’s rather eccentric format. And I believe that the show’s strengths will be better served if Segundo remains fun, passionate, informed, and slightly idiosyncratic. In other words, on the Web.

I’ve also made a few cosmetic changes to the Bat Segundo site so that it’s a little less cluttery and easier for you to subscribe via iTunes.

I have set up a few more interviews for August, ensuring that eight shows will be aired this month. This should take us up to Show #234 before the end of the month. In an effort to keep the Segundo schedule more consistent, I will be putting up at least one new show every Friday, with the week’s second show (or, in some cases, a third show) appearing at some random point in the week.

I am currently in the financial position of keeping Segundo going through the end of August and through a good chunk of September. My operating costs essentially entail enough money for me to pay my rent, keep up the hosting costs, and a few other comparatively meager expenses. (Pedantic expenses such as ConEd and the like.) Over the past year, I have made enough freelancing money each month to keep Segundo going. I still intend to carry on freelancing as much as I can and as long as the editors will have me. But I also realize that, because of recent newspaper developments, it is no longer tenable for me to rely on this shaky income. I am not too proud to take up a full-time job. But if I do become employed on a full-time basis, I will not have the time I need to produce these shows with the same frequency and quality that I have in the past. There was a point when I was putting out Segundo while also working a full-time job. But to do this, I nearly drove myself insane. There were far too many nights in which I would stay up mastering until 4 AM or so, finish a podcast, and then wake up a few hours later to go to work. These considerable demands have become greater over the past year. As the show’s demands upon my life have increased, I do not believe that sleeping three hours a night is a tenable scenario. Each podcast now involves some twenty to twenty-five hours of work, and often considerably more. This time goes into reading, research, booking, production, post-production, et al.

For those who have full-time jobs and compare my creative life to that of a bum’s, I assure you that I am not a loafer. I have continued to work 90 to 100 hour weeks as a freelancer and a podcaster, frequently starting my day at around 6:00 AM and ending it sometime in the evening hours. This is hard work and I do my best to keep things as fresh and vibrant as I can. Some friends have informed me that I live a rather preternatural existence. But I also realize that I am not entitled to this existence and I hope that the product of my considerable labor will permit me to carry on doing this. While I can certainly see Segundo continuing as an intermittent series of specials, I feel that this program is important enough to warrant its continued rate of production. Judging by your emails and support, I believe that you feel similarly.

So here’s the plan:

1. Sponsorship. Because Segundo reaches a very specific niche audience, and because nearly every existing survey I have consulted concludes that listeners don’t mind a 15-second advertisement before a podcast, we plan on initiating an unobtrusive form of advertising along these lines. At the beginning of each program, we’ll feature a quick 15-second audio advertisement. Like old time radio, each program will feature a sole sponsor. For less than the price of a business card advertisement running for a week in the Brooklyn Paper, you’ll get a reasonably priced form of radio advertising that (a) singles out a more targeted demographic, (b) doesn’t have to compete with other advertisements to grab the listener’s attention, (c) permits your product or service to stand out in a way that is unlike any other, (d) treats the audience intelligently and respectfully by not overstaying its welcome, and (e) gives you radio advertising that you don’t have to pay a $2,000 minimum for (believe it or not, that’s the standard cost for a local radio station advertising bundle).

Here’s a look at some advertising rates with other podcasts.

Blogger & Podcaster: $450 for a 30 second ad. (Claimed audience: 20,000)
Blog Talk Radio: $350 per 15 seconds. (Claimed audience: 5,000)
Colorado Hockey Insider: $200 per show. (Claimed audience: 9,000)
Geek News Central: $1,000 per show for 30 to 45 second ad. (Claimed audience: 18,000)
Small Business Podcast: $500 per show to be mentioned in the podcast. (Claimed audience: 3,500)
A Very Spatial Podcast: $250 per show, 10-15 seconds. (Claimed audience: 1,500)

After looking at these figures (and it’s worth noting that all of these podcasts, to my knowledge, were able to obtain advertising at the rates they offered), we concluded that $350 per show would be a very fair market rate to start out with. We took some of the excellent advice and honesty given by podcaster Michael W. Geoghegan about operating as an independent podcaster and set to work on a media kit.

We’ve now prepared a media kit that offers a program overview and includes many details about sponsorship. If you’re interested in setting up the deal, feel free to check it out. You can contact me if you have any questions.

If you’re an advertising agency or a third-party individual who would like to set up advertising for us, I should note that we’re offering a 25% commission. (The standard commission rate given to ad agencies is 15%. And in light of what they do to support big magazines and the comparatively picayune amount we are asking for, I have decided to up the percentage. If you can get one client to sponsor a month of Segundo, that’s $600 that goes directly to you when the deal goes through. If you can do that in about four hours of time, then that’s $150/hour.) However, a few volunteers will be approaching potential advertisers in a very pro-active manner during the next few months. Our goal is to get five of the eight programs set up for sponsorship during August. If we can do this, and maintain a sufficient momentum, then we’ll keep on doing this. And we’ll report on the progress of this experiment as it happens.

There is one stipulation. Because Segundo is a program that strives to maintain its journalistic integrity, we will not be accepting advertising from publishers. We want to avoid anything that resembles a conflict of interest. (Historically, the shows have gone out of their way to include an eclectic mix of publishers, both large and small.) Segundo is what it is because it remains fairly autonomous. And we’re hoping that we can keep things this way. This is not to say that we’re ruling out companies that provide study guides, notebooks, or fancy pens, or those who host book fairs and trade shows, et al. But we do want to run the most ethical ship we can under the circumstances. And, besides, one mistake made by newspaper advertising departments has involved the failure to consider that book people do indeed go to restaurants, shop, travel, et al. We’re going to try and atone for this mistake. And we’re also going to reach out to smaller companies.

I should also point out that, unlike radio, we’re also open to individuals who wish to pay for a crazed message. And if you’ve been having trouble getting a particular kind of ad on television and radio because these networks and stations have cold feet, well then, why not try podcasting?

2. Donations. Of course, we realize that it may take a good month or two to set up advertising. We’re under no illusions that any of this will work. So we will simultaneously be launching a new pledge drive in August for a sum of $1,600. Should we obtain this modest sum in the next three weeks, this will permit us to stay alive during the next month and conduct numerous interviews in September and early October with many important authors in the fall. We’ll also be placing some of this money into a low-cost marketing campaign that we’ll be carrying out in August and September to increase the show’s audience. I can’t yet tell you the details of this marketing yet, but I can say that no podcaster has tried what we’re doing and we believe that it will be successful enough to increase our audience. This audience increase, in turn, will make us more attractive to sponsors. (After we carry out this marketing, in the interests of total transparency, I will report on its degree of success.)

Like our pledge drive from last year, if you contribute $10, we’ll send you a chapbook which contains a special message from Bat Segundo, an excerpt from Humanity Unlimited (my novel in progress), and an excerpt from Wrestling an Alligator (a play I wrote and directed a few years ago). If you’ve already received a chapbook and you choose to contribute again, we’ll be sending a supplemental chapbook that contains an excerpt from a noir novel that is also in progress.

If you’ve enjoyed Segundo over the years and you’d like to see us continue, feel free to donate.

I should also point out that the conflict of interest clause also involves donations. If you are an author and I eventually do interview you, then I’ll have to return the money. (In full transparency, we had one author who contributed last time. But we avoided a conflict in ethics by having somebody else interview this author.)

Now because our previous posts on the near demise of Segundo have resulted in a few donations, we’ll be including them in this $1,600 figure. Fair is fair. So the tally that we now have to beat is:

In the event that donations and sponsorship don’t yield the results, this brings us to Point #3.

3. Reading Fundraiser: I’ve contacted a few authors who have generously offered to give up some of their time for a Segundo fundraiser sometime in the fall. We’re currently looking around for possible venues. (If you have any ideas, again, please email me.) But what we have in mind is a reading fundraiser that would be hosted by Bat Segundo. (As our most recent podcast has made clear, Mr. Segundo was not, contrary to the events depicted in Show #199, shot to death.) Those attending would pay an entrance fee. But if the authors reading at this fundraiser aren’t enough of a draw, we’ll also be handing out CDs, which will contain a selection of the best Segundo episodes (along with a bonus or two that isn’t available online). In addition, should we find a sponsor who is willing to underwrite this event, we could waive the entrance fee and simply hand out the CDs.

We should have more on this fundraiser once we’ve managed to organize.

I realize that this is an elaborate plan that will require a good deal of hard effort. But I firmly believe that together, we might be able to do something quite amazing.

As my advertising rates indicate, I’m sure as hell not doing this for the money. My aim with Segundo has been simply to attempt something a little smarter than other radio shows who talk with authors.

I am being as transparent as I can with you because I do recognize that we’re trying to do something here for community. We’re trying to do something here for democracy. We’re trying to do something here for integrity.

This experiment may work. It may not. But it’s certainly worth a shot. And however it turns out, I’ll keep you posted on our efforts.

Thank you again for listening. And thank you for supporting us.


Bat Segundo Media Kit

Categories: Uncategorized