Slight Segundo Slowdown

Due to my inability to secure a reliable broadband connection after a recent move (a lengthy Kafakesque tale presently without end) and an apparent spate of mental fatigue that friends and loved ones have had the kindness to help me identify, I’m going to be slowing down Bat Segundo production in the next month or two. There will still be new shows. I’m sitting on about six interviews and I have a few more scheduled over the next few weeks (including some I’ve scheduling in relation to The New York Film Festival: please see my coverage on the other site). But the upshot is that, between all this and my other activities, I don’t want to burn out. So to preserve my sanity, I’m not going to adhere to a weekly schedule.

So expect at least nine or ten new shows before the year is up.

I anticipate returning to a regular weekly schedule at the beginning of 2011.

Categories: Uncategorized

Scarlett Thomas II (BSS #357)

Scarlett Thomas is most recently the author of Our Tragic Universe. Ms. Thomas previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #117.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unusually pedantic about modifiers.

Author: Scarlett Thomas

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: I wanted to address one review. Jessa Crispin in The Smart Set. She said, “Well, you adhered to the two laziest storylines that the world of fiction has ever thrown up. Love Conquers All and Secretly a Princess.” But to my mind, I thought this was a severe misreading and misunderstanding of the book. I mean, the book is very much concerned with how narrative must rely on contrivances in order to present life. On the other hand, when you have, for example, the deus ex machina of the magic money appearing in Meg’s account, this is something of a risky proposition for someone who is accustomed to the page-turning of your previous books. So I’m curious as to how much you worried or agonized over this, coming off of a fairly substantial success — particularly in the UK and particularly here among bloggers and the like. Did you just not care? Or did you worry about people misreading this? Because you’re presenting narrative within narrative within narrative and some people are clearly not picking this up.

Thomas: Yeah, I mean — God, there’s quite a lot there. I read the Jessa Crispin piece and I feel quite frustrated with it. Because the reading that she presents is the reading that’s set up for you in the book. That, in fact, it’s one character’s analysis of what’s happened. But the book sets it up as probably wrong. The reading that’s there –- I mean, this is just my own reading. Everybody is welcome to read it the way they like.

Correspondent: Sure.

Thomas: But the idea is that you actively go through and think, “Oh! Aha! So it was the cosmic ordering that gave her the money. And then this and that and the other. Oh my god, everything’s prearranged. And there’s no free will and everything’s perfectly placid. And it’s just like Kelsey Newman. Do I actually want to live like that? Or would I rather read it a different way?” So that’s what you’re supposed to be doing with those ideas. And Jessa seems to have stopped a bit too early. The money device – it’s not really a deus ex machina. Because Meg has written these novels. And they have been optioned for TV. And she has got the money for it. And I think, as most writers know, you do these things. And everybody’s always talking about optioning this and optioning that. And you might get some money. And you never do. And one day, you open your online banking. And there’s some money. And it does kind of change your life. For me, The End of Mr. Y did so well in the UK and Europe that there were days when I’d open up my bank account and think, “Whoa! Where has that come from?” For the first time in my life. Because, you know, I’ve always been pretty poor. And I wanted to try and write out that experience of suddenly having some money. But, of course, it’s really hard to do in a novel. Because the novels are supposed to be about drama and struggle and conflict, and somebody striving. You’re supposed to get the money at the very end of the book. I wanted to play with the idea of getting the treasure in the middle. And then what happens to life after that? But I have to say that Meg is not really a princess. Not for me anyway. What was the other thing?

Correspondent: I was going on about how narrative has to rely on contrivances to some degree in order to represent life. But to phrase that in light of your last answer, what I think we’re talking about here is the problem with coincidences, which occur in reality and life all the time. And yet when you put them into a novel, then, all of a sudden, it seems like “Oh, that can’t possibly happen!” And that’s the problem with structure, I suspect.

Thomas: Well, you see, another thing I’m trying to do in the novel – maybe not so obviously; well, maybe it is obvious – is to look at coincidence. Is the world and our experience of it – is that somehow structured in a scientific or positivist and rationalist way? Is it structured on the spiritualists on some level? Because that’s also a structure that’s imposed. Is it completely random? Or the fourth option – I may have just said there are three.

Correspondent: Well, that’s okay. We’re not counting.

Thomas: (laughs) Yeah, I don’t think you can count. But the fourth option is more interesting to me. And I think that there is no structure. But there are lots of people who are aware of lots of different structures. Which is interesting. And there are things that happen that aren’t pure coincidence. So that things don’t just happen out of nowhere. But they happen through plots or series of events leading up to that that are so minute that you almost can’t see them. So, for example, towards the end of the novel, Frank and Vi turn up miraculously on the River Dart, where The Beast maybe is, and end up taking place in some action there. And for me, I really liked putting them there. Because I thought they were there because they read Alice Oswald’s poem about the Dart. So it’s not that they weren’t there randomly by complete chance. Everybody does everything for a reason. I’m really interested in that. And so looking at the reasons for why people do things, and why that might lead to something else, that’s what’s really fascinated me in this book. So I really don’t believe in complete coincidence. I believe in choices and desire and motivation of characters, and just how interesting it is when you look at the tiny aspects of that.

Correspondent: You’ve created almost by necessity, however, a system. And life is what happens when you make other plans. So I’m not certain if I entirely buy your causist explanation for these characters. Because I think you also portray much of the attempt to explain the universe, or explain the world around us, as a trap. And a way to avoid living without absolute cognizance. So I’m curious about how you managed to depict this double-edged sword here.

Thomas: Yeah, it might. I don’t know. I mean, you don’t have to buy it. But it’s absolutely how I wrote the book. That okay, on some level, when you write a novel, you do have to impose some kind of scheme on things which don’t have a scheme like that. You need a beginning, a middle, and an end. You need to choose when you take up with the carrots. When you let them go. All of that. Yes, you do impose a structure. But for me, one of the most interesting moments in the book was when I realized that Arthur Conan Doyle, when he believed in the Cottingley Fairies. For him, the fairies were more believable than these working-class girls who could actually forge pictures of fairies. I found that so fascinating. Because for that to be your explanation – because it was impossible for him to believe in the motivation of the girls, for him to think his way into their lives and the way they would have planned something, wasn’t just a coincidence. They didn’t just happen upon the pictures. They actually made them. And that’s a wonderful thing to imagine. I think it’s great and so inventive. And then, for him, it was easier to believe in the fairies. For him, the more believable plot or the more believable story is that the fairies exist. And, for me, that was a really central image in the whole book.

Correspondent: So even if you don’t clutch to the Kelsey Newman-like idea, you still can find solace in either the Conan Doyle fairies or, as Meg has in this childhood flashback, where there’s this guy who says, “I can teach you magic.” Which is interesting in light of the fact that her father is very much about finding an explanation for the universe with numbers. And so it seems to me that the burden of these characters is very much to find any kind of explanation –- or even the self-help books that Meg must review for this particular column. That this is really the onus for almost all the characters. Either that or you have the option of just tossing your car into the river.

Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. I’m fascinated with the process of looking for explanations for things, and understanding things scientifically. Which has always been my urge. Even though I’m not into the kind of — this nouveau atheist movement is not my thing at all. Because any explanation that makes sense would be okay for me. Usually it’s a kind of scientific explanation. Sometimes, it’s not. But if I’m up in a plane, I want to know how it flies. I want to know why I’m not crashing.

Categories: Fiction

Mary Robinette Kowal (BSS #356)

Mary Robinette Kowal is most recently the author of Shades of Milk and Honey.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Confusing magic with milkshakes.

Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: I wanted to start with the specific language in this book. The specific Jane Austen template that you laid out. You took great care to mimic Jane Austen’s particular spellings. You used chuse with a U instead of choose with double O. Shew instead of show. Surprize and teaze spelled with a Z. But on the other hand, you didn’t, for example, hyphenate today. And things along those lines. And nuncheon! Jane Austen never used nuncheon!

Kowal: That’s not true. She used it twice.

Correspondent: When? And where?

Kowal: She used it in Lady Susan and Sense and Sensibility.

Correspondent: Ah, okay. Well, in any event, the hard choices of vocabulary. I wanted to first of all start with how this came about. Why go ahead and emulate this language? Was the idea here to create a series of limitations with which to approach a long-form novel? What came first here?

Kowal: I thought that language reflects society very closely. The reason I wound up using some of her spellings, it’s really an affectation. I am trying to pretend that this is something that could have been written then. I deviated from her spellings in places where I thought it would be confusing. In places where I didn’t feel the word was going to appear often enough for a reader to get used to it. An example of a word that was confusing was that she spelled stayed – like stayed at home – S-T-A-I-D.

Correspondent: That’s right.

Kowal: Which is a different word now. The word sofa appears, I think, once in the novel. And she spelled it S-O-P-H-A. And there’s not actually a reason to stop people. I actually thought that they were going to make me change all of the spellings. But I guess you can think of it as dressing up in Regency clothes, but remembering of course that it’s still going to a costume party.

Correspondent: By “they,” are you referring to Liz Gorinsky?

Kowal: Yes.

Correspondent: Or the copy editors?

Kowal: Well, Liz Gorinsky. The production department. I thought that someone in the editing line was going to say, “Hey, we need to change that.” The copy editor, once we had decided with Liz and marketing to keep the spellings — and we did lift out some of them – then I gave the copy editor a style sheet that said, “These are the correctly misspelled words. Please do not change them.”

Correspondent: Which words didn’t make the cut? I’m curious.

Kowal: Sopha. Staid. All of the to-days and to-morrows.

Correspondent: Oh! So those were originally spelled that way in your original draft.

Kowal: Yeah.

Correspondent: Okay. Wow.

Kowal: I can’t remember what some of the others were. But I did a find/replace. I can’t remember where I found it, but I found a Jane Austen spelling list. And I went through and did a find/replace on everything. And then they went back and undid that. So it’s funny. There’s a couple of places. I know that there’s at least one chuse that we missed and it’s still spelled with two Os. But you know.

Correspondent: Well, goodbye to that, I suppose.

Kowal: You know. Second edition.

Correspondent: Well, this is interesting. Because I’m wondering if it took you several practice tries to write in this particular meticulous style.

Kowal: I would read a chapter of Jane Austen and then write a chapter of Jane Austen. So I was reading Persuasion while I was writing this. And one of the things I picked up from the puppetry is that I frequently have to mimic somebody else’s style. So once I decided to do this, I sat down and started reading Austen. And then the reason that I was writing right after finishing reading a chapter was because I knew that the language would stick and the rhythms would stick. But I don’t really think I did a practice run.

Photo: Annaliese Moyer

Categories: Fiction

Allegra Goodman (BSS #355)

Allegra Goodman is most recently the author of The Cookbook Collector.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Confusing cookbooks with novels.

Author: Allegra Goodman

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: Jonathan’s dialogue is so reflective of Sergey Brin. I mean, he says things like “Introduce me. I’m serious.” Very Star Trek-like in his dialogue.

Goodman: Actually, I’m glad you raised that. Because in terms of research into the dot commers, I did not go to libraries obviously and do that kind of research. You can’t research them like you would a group of rare cookbooks. But my research consisted of listening to the way they talk. I’m very interested in voices. The way somebody like Bill Gates talks. The way somebody like Sergey Brin talks. I’m interested in their militant casualness. They’re very bright. They’re very ambitious. They’re very driven. And they’re very chummy and casual. Like “Let’s all just make this happen.” In a way, anti-intellectual in some ways. In their rhetoric. Not that they aren’t intellectual, a lot of them. And I don’t mean to lump all of them together. But I listened to the rhetoric that they used.

Correspondent: Who did you listen to? Specific tapes or recordings?

Goodman: I was interested in Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and some of the younger voices that I was reading in interviews in magazines at the time. The way researchers talk. The way techie people talk. The way programmers talk. Not necessarily just the powerful ones. But these are the words that they use. And I was interested actually – you know, Jess and George are very literary. And their dialogue and their banter has a lot of references to books and things like that. People have mentioned this about my book. But there’s a counterweight that people don’t mention. Maybe they don’t hear it because it’s so obvious. It’s like what we hear all the time. It doesn’t stick out. But it’s very not literary. It’s very anti-intellectual. Techie.

Correspondent: Well, Jonathan quibbles with “tenuous” at one point, looking at it like a mystified word. But this is interesting. Because I’m wondering if one of the motivating factors to write this novel is because the 1990s – God, that time was incredible in the way we documented everything about the dot com era. We documented everything about our culture. We wanted to publicize our own vacuity, so to speak. I’m wondering if this made things easier from a novelistic standpoint.

Goodman: Well, it’s really interesting. Because we did document that era and we still do. It’s been so well documented. But what I always thin is, “Well, what can my contribution be as a novelist?” As opposed to being a historian or an economist. Or even a psychologist. A sociologist. People talked about the different syndromes of sudden wealth at the time. There was a tremendous amount of journalism at the time. And after. The aftermath. The postmortems. So what could I contribute as a novelist? And what I contribute is to write about it from the inside rather than the outside. To give an intimate portrait rather than the broad overview. And as I did in Intuition, to talk about motivation. Which journalists are really not allowed to talk about, but novelists get to do.

Categories: Fiction

Prince of Broadway & Adam Langer II (BSS #354)

Sean Baker is the director and co-writer (among other things) of Prince of Broadway. Darren Dean is the producer and co-writer of that same film.

Adam Langer is most recently the author of Thieves of Manhattan. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #175.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for princes and publishing insiders.

Guests: Sean Baker and Darren Dean, and Adam Langer

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: Because this was a low-budget operation, I have to say that there had to be at least one moment where it was guerrilla shooting.

Baker: Oh yeah.

Correspondent: Could you talk about this? I mean, how much of this was sneaked….

Baker: Do you want to talk about it?

Correspondent: Can you talk about it?

Baker: I don’t know if we can talk about this.

Dean: (laughs)

Correspondent: You can hint at it.

Baker: The fight scene.

Dean: Yeah, we can talk about it.

Baker: I think so.

Dean: We had permits for everything. Which fight scene? The first fight scene or the second fight scene?

Baker: No, the second fight scene.

Dean: We had permits for everything. And we just ran up against the wall. And at the very, very end, we were like, “Oh my god! We forgot this fight scene!”

Baker: Yeah.

Dean: But we shot in the parking lot. We got up that day and we said, “Well, we need to shoot this scene.” Our permits were gone.

Baker: We ran out of insurance that morning.

Correspondent: Wow.

Dean: Everything was gone. This was the last scene we had to shoot or one of the last scenes we had to shoot. And we got up. We went to Prince. And we said, “Here’s $10. Or $15. For each guy you can find. Tell them we need them for twenty minutes. There’s going to be a fight. And meet us at that garage over there.” I went over to the gate of the garage, talked to the guy who was working the garage. I gave him twenty bucks. I said, “We’re going to be here shooting for fifteen minutes and then we’re out.” Shot the scene and literally took off. And that was it.

Baker: That was the one point where we just had to resort to that. Because we were running out of money. We ran out of insurance. And to get the film completed, it took those drastic measures.

* * *

Correspondent: John McNally at the San Francisco Chronicle called you a “publishing insider.”

Langer: Oh yeah.

Correspondent: And I’m wondering why he thought this. This is a book, after all, that has the rather implausible idea of US News & World Report having a books editor. I thought that was rather absurd, I have to say. If you’re a “publishing insider,” that should have been the big tipoff.

Langer: Yeah, I know US News & World Report. But that’s also from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know a hell of a lot about the book industry. The guy who identifies himself as a US News & World Report guy. But publishing insider? I mean, I don’t know. I write books. So I’m inside publishing that way. I’ve never had a job in publishing. I worked as an editor for a book magazine. I don’t know. If you’re a sportswriter, are you inside the sports world? Maybe. I don’t know.

Correspondent: It could very well be that the literary world, or the publishing world, has only so many cliches or is so diaphanous in its subject matter that anyone could, by way of delving into it, could become a publishing insider.

Langer: Yes. Guilty as charged. But I never really thought of myself that way. And I wish I had a few more editorial jobs to give myself a little more streetcred in that regard.

Correspondent: Well, going back to the names of people you brought up, did you have to go through Legal to get permission in house? Was anything considered to be defamatory in any capacity?

Langer: No. Not everything is defamatory in the book necessarily. I mean, I really didn’t want to slag individual people in the book. But at the same time, I wanted it to be taking place in the real publishing world. So I didn’t want anything in there fictional. I mean, if someone’s at a party, I wanted people who would be at these parties intermingling with fictional characters. In the same way I like to talk about how you have Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But you also have Jessica Rabbit running around. So I like the intermingling of cartoonish and reality. But I had no desire or interest in ragging on anybody specific in publishing. And anyone who is libeled in the book is fictional, I would say.

Categories: Fiction, Film