Justin Taylor (BSS #323)

Justin Taylor is most recently the author of Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Fearful of sanguine book titles.

Guest: Justin Taylor

Subjects Discussed: Not naming protagonists until well into the stories, dissatisfaction with formality, how characters reveal themselves, gender confusion within “Weekend Away,” Taylor’s aversion to “bright neon signs” within narrative, the dangers of being too specific, similes, concluding lines and addressing the reader, the final line of “Jewels Flashing in the Night of Time,” Donald Barthelme and Taylor’s veer from the phantasmagorical, Sleeping Fish and 5_Trope, Shelley Jackson, the Gordon Lish school of writers, Gary Lutz’s “experimental” nature, Taylor’s concern for hair, describing Florida primarily through the weather, the helpfulness of knowing a place before writing a story, boundaries and possibilities within limitations, age declarations at the beginnings of stories, the difficulties of getting all the numbers worked out within “The New Life,” the important of precise age, research that comes after writing a story, eliding the coordinates of a Planned Parenthood, 1960s counterculture, the Grateful Dead, distrust of pithy maxims and prescriptive text, and believing in aspects of a story.


Correspondent: I wanted to go back to the hair. I had alluded to that earlier. It could just be me, but you do have a concern for hair. It’s often quite specific, as I suggested. You begin “Amber at the Window in Hurricane Season” by describing her pushing “a blond lock behind her ear, stray hairs glancing off a steel row of studs.” In “In My Heart I Am Already Gone,” you describe how Vicky “cuts her own bangs, a ragged diagonal like the torn hem of a nightgown.” In “Weekend Away,” the hitchhiker has “black, messy hair mostly covering his ears.” In “What Was Once All Yours,” Cass has hairy forearms. I’m curious about this hair. And also we haven’t alluded to the cat as well. Is it more of a protective element? You know, these characters are often barren against the elements, so to speak. And I’m curious about this. You are a hair man, I have to say.

Taylor: (laughs)

Correspondent: Or are you the President of the Hair Club for Men? I don’t know.

Taylor: I can’t really answer for that. I mean, every writer has certain concerns or tics that they might not even be aware of. I asked a similar question to David Berman once. I got to interview him for The Brooklyn Rail. And I was asking him this question about water. I said, “You know, American Water.” And there’s this line in Actual Air. “All water is classic water.” I had, I don’t know, two or three other examples. And I finally just asked myself, “So what’s the deal with all the water?” And he said, “You know, nobody’s ever asked me that before.” And he really didn’t have an answer. And then he told this story about mowing his lawn on a hot day. Which I think was supposed to exemplify that water is — water’s nice. And, you know, I don’t know. Hair is nice, I guess. I don’t know why. Because it’s mostly haircuts, hairstyles. I don’t know why I notice. Those are like what I’m visualizing with a character that appears or seems to be worth mentioning rather than eye color or height or anything else. I don’t know.

When I was a kid, I never liked getting haircuts. I still don’t like getting haircuts actually. I always feel like I don’t have a good haircut. Like everybody else has the style that they’re supposed to have. And mine always feels a little off. I feel like I’m impersonating.

Correspondent: Not one satisfactory haircut in your life?

Taylor: I’ve had some decent haircuts. But it was like a very early — it was when I was a really little kid. It would get long and I would be worried that I would look like a girl. And they would take me to get my hair cut. And then after it was cut, I would see myself in the mirror and I wouldn’t even recognize myself. And I would really lose it. And that doesn’t happen so much anymore. I’ve learned to recognize myself.

Correspondent: With more confidence, more confidence in hair and haircuts.

Taylor: There’s only so old you can be crying at a barbershop.

Correspondent: I’ve seen very older men cry at barbershops.

Taylor: (laughs) In any case, the answer is “I don’t know.”

Categories: Fiction

Kevin Sampsell (BSS #322)

Kevin Sampsell is most recently the author of A Common Pornography.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Airing his dirty laundry.

Guest: Kevin Sampsell

Subjects Discussed: Maintaining an emotional spectrum within the two editions of A Common Pornography, balancing sweet material with darker installments, how the death of Sampsell’s father (and subsequent revelations) altered Sampsell’s perspective, the great lie of memory, how memory affected chapter length, wrestling, changing people’s names, telephone conversations with mysterious legal people, the photo that didn’t make it into the book and inappropriate implication, passing on a textual legacy, the pretensions and dangers of writing about one’s self in a heroic or self-deprecatory manner, the emotional incongruity of writing about the past in the present, Jonathan Ames, Kevin Keck, the ideal word unit to access the past, on not passing judgment from the present vantage point, mathematical precision within prose, the stigma of counting the number of times you make love with someone, the influence of sports statistics upon consciousness, rash speculations on football players wearing a jersey with the number 63, determining divorce status from gesture, candor without commentary, self-deprecation and snark, arresting opening lines, in which the correspondent (due to the lateness of the hour) hallucinates a list of questions that doesn’t actually exist in the book, effective ways to arrange a pornography collection, Pee Chee folders and why some people don’t know about them, how to organize manuscripts vs. how to organize porn, debate over whether Mr. Sampsell has remained “normal,” the difficulties on reconnecting with people through Facebook, learning about unexpected outside perspectives while chronicling the past, putting it all on the line, and the difficulties of identifying one’s self as a writer.


Correspondent: What was it about the radio school instructor’s body language that suggested “a few divorces in his past?”

Sampsell: (laughs)

Correspondent: I bring this up because given how your family and your friends judged you — at least based off of my reading of the text; I obviously wasn’t there — such as Pam claiming that her little brother had beat you up. Isn’t there a certain paradox in ascribing such judgment to others within the text like this? Or do you exonerate yourself from the judgment, because as we’ve been discussing, you’re doing candor without commentary.

Sampsell: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think I should say, or we should say, that there is no commentary throughout the book. Because there probably are a few times where there is some understated commentary or maybe some snarky comments. The radio/TV teacher that I had — I totally remember him as being this kind of Marlboro Man kind of guy. And he did have this posture that was kind of slouchy and defeated. And he seemed — I think he was probably like in his fifties or something like that. And he just kind of had this sloppiness to him.

Correspondent: Maybe he was happily married and he just didn’t like his job.

Sampsell: Maybe.

Correspondent: I mean, “a few divorces in his life.”

Sampsell: Yeah.

Correspondent: That’s pretty judgmental, man.

Sampsell: (laughs) Yeah, I don’t know. I think as a kid, when you see people like that, I think most — a lot of my teachers, anyway — I remember as being fairly upbeat. Maybe stern. Maybe a little cheery or whatever. And then there are some that just seemed worn out. And I just remember him being this kind of worn out kind of character. I liked him a lot.

Correspondent: But how do you get from worn out to divorce?

Sampsell: (laughs) Well, maybe that’s just my perspective.

Correspondent: Aha! There is commentary, I see.

Sampsell: Because there’s commentary in other places too. Like the chapter about the prostitute. I mean, there’s a number of — I’m sure — snarky comments about her. There’s snarky comments about me as well.

Correspondent: Well, let’s be clear on this. I mean, are self-deprecatory comments about yourself really snark?

Sampsell: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sure what you’d call it.

Correspondent: Selfark? I don’t know. “Taternuts” begins with a line, “This is how I learned about cunnilingus from a policeman’s wife and became a legendary fryer at the same time.” Now that’s an opening line. It reminded me of Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers — that famous line. But it invites the reader to plunge further and yet other sections don’t quite have that lede. And I’m curious why you felt particularly compelled to grab the reader by the lapels with that particular section.

Sampsell: Oh, I don’t know. Yeah, that’s kind of interesting. When I write fiction, I am a firm believer that the first sentence should be really strong. And that comes from the Gordon Lish/Gary Lutz/Diane Williams school of writing. Or whatever it is like that. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Have a really great first line. Build your story sentence by sentence. I don’t necessarily do that in this book. But, in fact, a lot of the first lines in this book — a lot of the first lines in the chapters — I think are probably pretty simple.

Categories: People

Bat Segundo Calls It a Snow Day

Due to an unexpected delay in getting some equipment repaired, there won’t be a new installment of The Bat Segundo Show this week. But Bat Segundo plans to atone for this deficit by offering a special pair of sister podcasts, the first in the program’s history. The two podcasts will feature two authors, each participating in a separate conversation, with the other offering unusual interjections, jocular banter, and/or possible defenses. The order of these interviews will be determined by a coin toss.

Because of this rather silly and elaborate approach, these two installments will go up sometime during the weekend of February 20th. And the following week, we will return to the regularly scheduled Friday slot.

Categories: Uncategorized

Christian Berger (BSS #321)

Christian Berger recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #321. Berger is the cinematographer for The White Ribbon and was, most recently, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

This conversation is related to The Bat Segundo Show #316, in which writer-director Michael Haneke was interviewed.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering why so many moviegoers are named Jacques.

Guest: Christian Berger

Subjects Discussed: Reasons to visit New York, establishing a black-and-white look with a color negative, specific hues used for gray tones, pressure from financing, grayscale limits in post-production, lighting and negative tests, differences between film and digital, ASA stock and characteristic curve, how Berger maintained minimal lighting to assist actors during sensitive moments, Barry Lyndon, reflective light, Haneke’s insistence on darkness, Haneke’s stubborn adherence to visuals, on not believing in the “We’ll fix it in post” maxim, managing film and DVD versions, sharing a cinematic vision with Haneke, the impact of HDTV on movies, and psychoanalytical influences on the creative process.


Berger: Then came pressure on the production side from one TV station who was participating in the financing system. They were asking for at least the chance to have a color version. Because they were scared from black-and-white. The old story. And now I hope nobody speaks anymore about it with the success. (laughs) But that was the reason we started to think of color negative. Then after the test, I was very happy about that. Because, with the old black-and-white negative, we could never achieve that result. Which is logic in a way. It was only a nostalgic reaction. “Ah, black-and-white.” Like in the old days. It would have been wrong. Color negative is really on the top of the technical possibilities. Now the last generations. And, for example, the rich color space — color room, you say, I think — you have in the negatives. You can transfer it to a very fine grayscale. That’s already a big difference. And it’s already an answer from what you asked me, yeah? This you can not really do in the post-production. Because the grayscale is quite fixed, given by the colors. So that we were testing before with the production designer, with costumes. Very important. Because we had a few very nice textile — a very good costume designer. The woman. But they gave the same gray, for example. Different blues. Yes, a different red can do it too. Production design, the same problem concerning the studio and the equipment from the rooms, color from the walls, furniture, everything. But that you could test out relatively easy.

The second part, direction, of the tests was how to handle the light level from oil lamps, from torches, from candles, natural fire sources we were depending on. So the whole lighting, which was necessary of course, had to go in relation to that level, which is very low. And there, the digital post-production possibilities came about again. Because we have a few very important scenes — very dark scenes — where it was definitely not possible to copy them analog. It was not enough. But with the digital way, you scan the original. And each little silver grain which was touched by light can work it out without grain. And that gives too a new look, I think. The combination of that.

Correspondent: But if you’re touching up every silver halide, the question remains whether there’s a disadvantage towards something looking perhaps too crisp or too clean.

Berger: Do you have that feeling?

Correspondent: Well, not entirely. Because you left a lot of dark areas. Particularly that great doorway shot, where there’s the corporal punishment seen. Where we see the camera go through different doors and you see various black expanses as the doors open.

Berger: Yeah.

Correspondent: So you’re telling me that you were able to — if it looked too crisp or too clean, you were able to corral this. Because you lit a lot of areas very dark. Was that your strategy?

Berger: Dark is usually a problem on the analog way. Because it’s grainy. It’s not a standing state of dark. And I think Haneke was quite happy with that clean quality. He loves it.

Image: Cinematografo

Categories: Film