Tayari Jones II (BSS #395)

Tayari Jones is most recently the author of Silver Sparrow. She previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #99.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Resisting the creative death knell kickstarted by marketing forces.

Author: Tayari Jones

Subjects Discussed: The limitless stories contained within any one city, writing about Atlanta, not living in a place you’re writing about, unanticipated shifts in character perspective midway through a massive project, numerous tips from Ron Carlson, tapping out a voice, writing a last chapter from every character, the origins of Raleigh, Hemingway’s iceberg theory, inventing an extended family and ambiguity, the two types of writers, working things out on the page, finding the story from a large bundle of pages, James’s stammering, being attracted to characters who are autonomous entrepreneurs, American fiction’s failings in depicting work, bigamists, how fathers are evaluated, whether bigamy is a pack of lies, taking lines from ridiculous ex-boyfriends, perspectives guided by time and situation, [12]


Correspondent: I also wanted to ask you about James’s stuttering. This was a very interesting character quality. Because here’s a man who has two wives and it seems almost as if he’s stuttering wives. And so I’m curious about when the stuttering entered into the equation of his character. Was it there all along? Or did it come as you were writing the dialogue?

Jones: James always had a stammer. I knew that I didn’t want him to be like a smooth operator. Two wives, two kids. I wanted him to be kind of an awkward person and, in a way, with his two wives an embarrassment of riches. He can’t believe he had one wife. Now he has two wives. So his stammer just came as this kind of awkwardness for him. I don’t remember coming up with it. It’s always been a part of him. I mean, one of the things that came later for him was his profession as a driver. And that came later. He needed something to do. And he needed something to do that would allow him to have these two wives. And I was thinking, “Oh, he’s a driver.” And I liked the idea of him being an entrepreneur. I think I’m attracted in stories — because I have one in Leaving Atlanta — of these men who are their own bosses. They’re not rich. But they’re their own bosses. This kind of autonomous man.

Correspondent: The self-made man. Exactly.

Jones: And they get written up in their local paper in small articles. Like they have lives to be proud of. But they’re not rich. And I like my characters to work. I like my characters to have jobs. I hate the way that in so much of American fiction you have no idea how these people are supporting themselves. Every person in this story has a job.

Correspondent: Or worse yet, you have the protagonist as a writer or an artist or some sort of stand-in for the actual writer who’s writing.

Jones: Or you give them some crazy inheritance.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Jones: So that the story can happen. You need your character to take a nine year trip. But you have to give them an inheritance to take the trip. Which makes them in a different class. I think that real stories happen as people work. I know my life is happening. And I work every day. So I like to write characters as well.

Correspondent: This also leads me to ask. Did you contact any bigamists? Whether past or present practitioners?

Jones: No, no. I don’t know any bigamists. But you know, the thing about people having these half-siblings who share a father, I know a lot of people who have called them silver sparrows. I know a lot of silver sparrows. And I have talked to a number of them. Everywhere I go, I meet one. Since this book has not even been out, since it’s been in the world and people know it exists, I get emails from people that say, “I’m a silver sparrow. My father had another family.” And I’m interested in this idea of how do you evaluate a father. Because there are a lot of men with more than one set of children. And the different children have a different relationship. Just the other day at the Florida festival, a woman said to me that she had written on Facebook her status on Father’s Day. You know, “Happy Father’s Day to my amazing dad. La la la la.” And she saw her sister, who has the same father and a different mother. And for her status, she wrote, “I never had a father because the coward wasn’t there.” And it’s the same man. Is he a good man or not? How do you judge him? Do you judge him the way that he treats his best child? The way he behaves best? The way he behaves worst? Do you come up with an arithmetic mean? What do you do? So many people have this issue.

Correspondent: You approach bigamy from the vantage point of “This is a pack of lies.” On the other hand, what is a novelist but someone who also promulgates a pack of lies? Who is worse? A novelist or a bigamist?

Jones: I did not say that this bigamy is a pack of lies! I think I approach this bigamy as practical. He’s not lying to everybody. He’s not lying to his second wife. So it’s not a pack of lies. It’s a pack that involves lies.

Categories: Fiction

Daniel Clowes (BSS #394)

Daniel Clowes recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #394. He is most recently the author of Mr. Wonderful.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Uniting with the bald community.

Author: Daniel Clowes

Subjects Discussed: Moments of simultaneous consciousness, creative methods of beating imposed deadlines, being intrigued by thought balloons, Superman and narrative urgency, formal lettering, what motivates words in Daniel Clowes’s life, the type of lettering that causes one to read narration in a robotic voice, sound effects and newspapers, CHOFF CHOFF vs. SMOOTH SMOOTH, mass readership and not receiving significant mail, Eightball reader responses vs. New York Times reader responses, angry Southerners who object to the word “Jesus,” following Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron versus following Mr. Wonderful on a sequential basis, pre-Internet audiences, “Check out my blog!” as a recurrent audience response, the advantages of insulation, the general sense of distant feedback, Chris Ware homages in Ice Haven, the amount of detail compressed in any individual frame, not wanting to cheat the reader, the complex issue of bald spots in comics, the many permutation of Wilson’s look, depicting eating in visual mediums, Terry Zwigoff’s enthusiasm for eating, the difficulties of illustrating table settings, reference shots, drawing pay phones, drawing without reference shots, the consequences of fussing over an illustration too much,


Correspondent: As a fellow gentleman who also has the male pattern baldness, I feel compelled to ask you about bald spots. In Wilson, his physical form changes from set to set to set. He’s often chunkier. He’s often muscular. He’s receding in different places each time. And I noticed in Mr. Wonderful, when you expand to one of these large panels, we do in fact see this silver of a bald spot.

Clowes: He has a bald spot throughout, I think.

Correspondent: Yeah. But we don’t really see it so much in some of the smaller panels.

Clowes: No. It looks weird if you have this little dot of flesh in a small panel.

Correspondent: To wrestle with the idea of bald spots in comics, is it really just a matter of liking to draw these?

Clowes: I’m trying to support our community.

Correspondent: Oh yes. Exactly. You meet in the secret halls as well as I do.

Clowes: Yes. Yes.

Correspondent: They don’t know how much we are…

Clowes: Again, I’m trying to normalize our ilk for the rest of the world.

Correspondent: What about the six panel approach of Wilson? I mean, sometimes we see….

Clowes: There’s seven or eight.

Correspondent: Sometimes we see at the very bottom of the row, we see three there. But I’m curious if that formalism caused you to shift Wilson’s appearance. I was always curious about why. Was it just a matter of trying to have almost every type of reader reading this finding her version of Wilson in the actual…?

Clowes: That was — that was part of the intent. We all see ourselves very differently from day to day. And I was trying to capture all the various ways that Wilson sees himself and feels about himself. And each one of those looks gives something specific to each of the strips. And I wanted each of them to have their own identity. They exist in this, as you say, very severe structure where it’s six, seven, and eight panel gag strips. And so I wanted them to have that, but also to have this way where they’re drastically differentiated from each other.

Correspondent: Sure. I mentioned Marshall eating a French fry earlier. And I did tell you that I had a followup question. I had a rather elaborate one.

Clowes: Bring it on.

Correspondent: I have — and this might just be an expression of my obsessions — but I have been very interested in the notion of depicting eating in visual mediums. You see a film sometimes. And often they’ll go to a restaurant or a diner or a bar or a cafe and nobody will eat. Similarly, I have noticed in your work that there is a reticence — especially in the early work, although we’re increasingly seeing more of a development in terms of depicting characters eating. Although I should point out that in the film of Ghost World, there’s a great moment where Bob Balaban is eating that toast.

Clowes: There’s lots of eating in that film.

Correspondent: Yeah, there’s lots of eating.

Clowes: Zwigoff enjoys eating.

Correspondent: Yes.

Clowes: Often, if he can’t think of anything else, he would just tell an actor, “Just put a bagel in your mouth and do the line that way.”

Correspondent: But in Ghost World the comic, we don’t actually see Enid and Rebecca eating. We see Josh eating.

Clowes: They’re too busy talking, I think.

Correspondent: They aren’t too busy talking. People talk and eat. They talk and eat in Ghost World the movie.

Clowes: It looks weird though. It makes someone look sort of vulgar if they’re talking and eating. And so you have to be careful with things like that. There are very subtle little things in comics. You have just this one panel to express something. And it confuses the audience if you’re not…you know.

Correspondent: Well, have you tried to get more eating? For example, the hospital in Mr. Wonderful, where incidentally Marshall feels more comfortable there than in the diner. Suddenly, Clowes feels more comfortable depicting picking at food and actual eating. I was reading this, championing the characters eating.

Clowes: Well, I think he’s relaxed. Before, he’s sort of taking a little bite and he’s not even thinking about eating. If you show someone eating, they seem at ease. And so I wanted to show that he’s given up. He’s totally relaxed. And he’s free to just eat his French fries.

Correspondent: Well, have you agonized over depicting eating moments over the years at all?

Clowes: It’s all intuitive. You don’t think about the details of it. You’re thinking about how to get across the performance of the character and how best to do that. Drawing table settings is really difficult. It’s one of the more difficult things you can do. Because you have to draw plates and perspectives and you have to kind of keep everything in the right place. You know, people don’t consciously notice if a glass moves from one side of the table to the other. But they unconsciously know that something’s off. And so it’s not at all easy. So I try not to write around that. I try to do my work and get it in there.

Correspondent: So being a script supervisor for your own work, it would seem, is part of the perfectionist in you.

Clowes: Table settings are famously the script supervisor’s nightmare.

Correspondent: Is there anything more difficult for you for the comics than table settings? In terms of getting things consistent?

Clowes: Oh yeah. I mean, there are many things that I have written around. I can’t imagine drawing a detailed battle scene. I mean, if I had to do it, I would. But it’s not my idea of fun, you know? It would be a chore. Or to draw people riding horses is the one I’ve tried a few times. And my horses look very weird. I’d have to spend three weeks just working on the horses and get some way to do that down before I could do a Western I think.

Correspondent: In the Ghost World special edition, there is a reference photo that you provide indicating that this is the model for the Ghost World hardcover photo. This leads me to ask, since we were talking about panel size before, how much reference you actually need. In the case of horses, I’m wondering if part of the difficulty has been getting enough horses to model for you or to be photographed.

Clowes: There’s certainly plenty of reference nowadays on the Internet. And as it’s gotten more and more available, I’ve tried to use less and less of it. Because I find that I can look back at my work and say, “Oh, I just looked at a photograph of a pay phone.” There’s something much stronger about trying to remember what a pay phone looks like. And that way you capture both the essence of a pay phone and you also capture what your vision of a pay phone is. And so I try and only use reference if it’s something where I just can’t get a clear picture in my head. I mean, that reference of my wife for the back cover of Ghost World, that was for doing a very specific kind of detailed painting. I wanted it to look like an old pinup painting. And so I wanted it to have that kind of phony posed look. And so I would use a photo for something like that. But I would almost never, for a person, use a photo.

Correspondent: At what point, do you just simply draw a gesture without reference? Some people say that you can tell when a cartoonist is coming into a room. You immediately know who he is. Because that’s exactly like the drawings. Is there a similar predicament in just wanting to be off the reference altogether and just using your imagination to get something a little unreal? What do you do in a situation like that?

Clowes: I try to always go in that direction. I’m much more interested in making things up. It doesn’t always work out. And then you have to go back and fix it. But very often it’s much truer than if you’re fussing over it too much and trying to get things perfect.

Correspondent: But when you’re talking about capturing the essence of a pay phone, if you fuss over it too much, is it going to have an impact on capturing the essence?

Clowes: No. I mean, if you fuss over it too much, it pulls it out of the rest of the world, which is not fussed over. I try to draw as naturally as I can. Which took me forever. You know, my early work, I look at it and it makes my hand ache from thinking how agitated I was trying to get everything a certain way and not getting there. It was just constantly frustrating. And I was always throwing pages out the window and starting over and whiting out entire faces and pasting things on. And it was never pleasurable. And in the last five or six years, I’ve gotten to the point where I can feel good about without absolute agony. Or at least I know how to fix it at this point. I know that everything is fixable.

Categories: Fiction

Ross Perlin (BSS #393)

Ross Perlin is most recently the author of Intern Nation.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering if he somebody signed him up for an unpaid internship.

Author: Ross Perlin

Subjects Discussed: Economic origins of the intern, Gary Becker and human capital theory, how economics contribute to intern culture, humane paid internships and varying definitions of “investment,” spending money to work for free, theological comparisons between internships and indentured servitude, free will and the virtual requirement of internship, Max Weber, the Fair Labor Standards Act, legal exemptions for trainees that permit unpaid internships to run rampant, Walling v. Portland Terminal, “employee” vs. “trainee,” the Department of Labor’s failure to enforce the FLSA, the loss of union and labor power in the last several decades, the six criteria for unpaid interns, why the internship phenomenon is largely white-collar, the many permutations of “perma,” college students who sacrifice considerable money but don’t get the college credit, education institutions who outsource oversight to corporations, the myth of academic credit in college interns, the assumption that college students know what they’re getting into, Lippold v. Duggal Color Projects (link to PDF), Lowery v. Klemm, sexual harassment of interns, discrimination and civil rights, interns forced to prove to the courts that they are legitimate employees before they can pursue grievances, power dynamics between interns and employers, the false sentiment that you can’t be a student and a worker, Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works, addressing correlation between increased wages and economic cycles, unpaid interns as the new temps, how short-term economic logic galvanizes present employment practice, middle-class hypocrisy as epitomized by Benjamin Kunkel, living wage movements, apprenticeships as both a legitimate alternative to internships and “the best kept secret,” the Fitzgerald Act, interns as the subject of cultural ridicule, the complicated class dynamics of internship, being privileged and exploited at the same time, interns and the working poor, the “winner take all” nature of the white-collar world, US vs. UK attitudes about interns, the difficulties of corroborating a secret world, and journalism as the first draft of history.


Perlin: It’s really clear that interns are used to plug holes. They’re used to plug operational holes. They’re used when there’s a hiring freeze. Whenever the wall has been hit in terms of labor costs supposedly for the employer. So that much is clear. In terms of the businessman who says, “Well, economically I can’t pay these people. I can’t do this. I’ve got a business to run,” I would say that is short-term economic logic at best. And at worst, it’s kind of a dangerous move.

Correspondent: Well, elaborate on that. Short-term, dangerous — what do you mean by that?

Perlin: Short-term in the sense that, by every measure, paid internship programs are better than unpaid. And so cycling back to something we had mentioned earlier, taking the long-term view — investing in people, investing in interns, investing in your newest employees in general — is something that has been shown to pay great dividends. To make it more concrete, I mention one example in the book of an employer that saves substantial money through a paid internship program. Because they save on recruiting costs. It’s used as a talent pipeline. Their success metric — something like over 50% of their interns can be hired in full-time roles. They basically calculated that their costs, as opposed to just having to go out and recruit new full-time employees — would be lesser if they could bring people in as interns. Interns are always going to be lower paid than regular employees. The costs are not that great. I mean, if you’re just talking about minimum wage for interns, this is not something which is really going to affect the bottom line that much. I mean, in a huge number of companies, you can have 1,000 interns for the price of one executive. I mean, that is the kind of spread we’re looking at these days in terms of salaries. So a company like this sees the economic sense. They do hire people. So, of course, if you don’t hire people at all, then maybe this sense would break down. But there’s a huge difference between the company which just uses interns on a short-term basis — unpaid. They have access to a narrower applicant pool for their internships. They don’t have access to the widest array of talent. A number of people I talked to reported that when they were going from paid to unpaid, or unpaid to paid, the quality of the people you get changes a great deal. Because if you have a paid internship program, just about anybody can apply, relatively speaking. Also, if you advertise it transparently, if you put it out there kind of like a job more or less, you’re going to have access to a broad talented pool of people.

Correspondent: Well, I was going to say that just having a short-term viewpoint isn’t enough. I want to give you a very good example. It’s right on the cover of your book. You have Benjamin Kunkel. He is one of the editors of n+1. He’s blurbed this book and he’s called it “a fascinating and overdue exposé.” But n+1, they, by the way, have interns who are not paid, who are involved according to the n+1 website with “printing, distribution, publicity, subscriptions, web administration, transcription, carrying boxes, and bartending.” So, in other words, it doesn’t sound all that different from say the Disney College Program or even a government internship, which we haven’t even talked about. There’s even an alleged Twitter feed of the n+1 interns. And I’m not sure if it’s a joke or if it’s actually them. But if Kunkel can commend your book and call it a muckraking exposé, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the fact that, well, he’s not going to be able to keep n+1 going without his interns, isn’t there a certain hypocrisy in this? I mean, if middle-class society uses and exploits interns, then what hope is there for changing people’s minds? Will they ever even see beyond the short-term? I mean, I agree with you that they probably should. But Kunkel, liberal-minded gent, look at what he’s doing.

Perlin: The publishing industry is one of the worst. It’s one of the worst offenders. The publisher of this book, Verso, has announced, making me very happy, that they have a well-paid, well-structured program. And I know they’re trying to spread that model in the world of independent, even left-wing publishing. But truly this has been an unpoliticized issue that it doesn’t rise to the level of consciousness. All kinds of people who see themselves as championing workers’ rights or who see themselves as liberal completely ignore this issue. Or they figure that all these interns are rich kids. So they can afford it. “It’s not a big deal if we don’t pay them.” Well, that’s an interesting statement. But, first of all, I would uphold the right of everybody to be paid for labor no matter what their background. And so I think to introduce a double standard is actually a dangerous idea. Even though people informally air that kind of opinion all the time. But, second of all, if indeed they are kids born with a silver spoon in their mouth, the question is: Why are those your interns? Well, because they’re the only ones who can afford to work for the non-pay that you’re offering. There probably are some smaller organizations getting off the ground that would have trouble surviving if they didn’t have interns. But in most cases, whether it’s a small liberal magazine in Brooklyn or a startup in the Midwest, whatever it is, they use interns to extend what they can do. To build up their capacity. To try and do more. They do it because they can. Because it’s there. And they haven’t questioned it. And one thing I’m hoping to do with the book is to politicize it such that anybody who wants to get up on soapboxes and say, “This or that is liberal. We should fight for workers. Protect workers and social mobility and social justice and talk about these kind of things,” will also look at their own workplace practices. But this is a much larger issue of people practicing what they preach, right?

Correspondent: Yes.

Perlin: In terms of work. In terms of labor. There’s so often a disconnect. Look at college campuses. Supposed hotbeds of liberalism. You walk into the lecture halls and you have Marxist professors elaborating on this or that. Until a few years ago, and this has only been in a limited kind of area, the people you had actually picking up the trash and keeping a campus running, cooking the food, etc., there was often very little connection between those big picture ideologies which are going on in the classroom and the treatment of those workers. The living wage movement on some campuses tried to rectify that and made a connection, but often you had people on those campuses theorizing about things that were happening in China or around the world, but not noticing the realities of work on their own campuses.

Correspondent: Well, interns — not only are they invisible to even the liberal-minded, but they also are something that people don’t want to see. I mean, you have people who are the working poor who are invisible. What is the solution to making them more visible? They are people too. They have debts they must pay. On the other hand, you also bring up apprenticeships in this book. But even electrician Don Davis tells you that apprenticeships remain the best kept secret. The interesting thing about apprenticeships is that they do pay an hourly wage. Some of them even provide healthcare, pension plans, day care, and the like. Is it really a matter of trying to make people more aware of something that’s secret? And if people in a business become more aware of something like apprenticeships, well, they may very well declare war upon them in the same way that they keep the concept of an intern invisible within their own folds. So do we start replacing internships with apprenticeships? Not necessarily just with books, but with people raising pitchforks in the streets?

Perlin: It’s amazing the extent to which apprenticeships — these are trade apprenticeships; blue-collar apprenticeships — are invisible to people who are not in that world, who are not in the trades. Especially in construction, which accounts for generally about 60%. 60% of all apprenticeships are engaged in construction overall. So unfortunately, yeah, if you raised more awareness about apprenticeships, it’s possible that there could be more of an attack on them. That there is legislation relating to it — the Fitzgerald Act, which established a registered apprenticeship program and standards that I see as a kind of model. Again, not incidentally, in the 1930s, as part of the golden age of labor legislation. I think that the reason apprenticeships have remained as they are is because these are generally heavily unionized fields where there are certain standards about what work should look like, what the humane experience is like, and because they work in a longer-term mentality. It’s something that’s been going on for seventy years. And from the employer’s point of view, a lot of employers welcome apprenticeships. And, in fact, the battle often is between the union and the employer over overuse of the apprentices by the employer. Because, even though apprentices are being well-paid and have a lot of benefits, as you say, relatively they’re still cheaper than using a post-apprentice union member worker. Which to me is indicative of the fact that internships would survive quite well, even if there was more regulation. Because again, interns will still represent quite a cheap reasonable solution for businesses to bring on new workers and to accomplish certain work. Even if they have to pay minimum wage, there will be quite a lot of scope for internships.

In terms of raising pitchforks in the street, I think apprenticeships are a real model for internships to look to. But it’s a huge hurdle to bring a blue-collar practice into the white-collar workforce in an era when the white-collar workforce is seen as the norm and the vanguard and setting the standard. It was shocking to me. And I think it’s shocking to a lot of people that here’s something that the blue-collar world is doing so much better. Training and bringing in young people and having a humane program. Invisibility? Yeah. I think there’s an invisibility about labor more generally. Interns are not invisible in the same way that apprentices or the working poor are. They’re featured in pop culture. Everybody sees them around. It’s known who’s the intern. They might wear a certain badge. Like in Washington DC, there’s a particular intern badge everybody knows on Capitol Hill. And people like to talk about interns. And it’s funny.

Correspondent: But they’re also the subject of ridicule.

Perlin: But often that visibility is that they’re kind of a laughing stock and that they’re figures of fun. But I think people do look at interns and they see middle-class kids. They see people who might become them, who they might work with later on. So there’s an atmosphere of civility. And there’s not the class distance often that there is with the working poor or with blue-collar workers, where there’s this feeling like, “Oh, that’s almost the other.” That’s a different somebody else. So that, in itself, represents an interesting problem. The class dynamics of internship are complicated for that reason.

Correspondent: But you’re dealing also with a certain dichotomy of perception. Wisconsin. People are really supporting the unions there. Interns? Not so much. Because of this idea: “Well, they knew what they were getting into.” It’s fascinating to me that there would actually be a strange inverted disparity with the unpaid white-collar worker versus the paid blue-collar worker. Or the paid social services worker. Do you think that’s part of the problem too? I mean, is there any way you can change that cultural perception? Especially since you have it supported not just by media reinforcement, but also by the fact that the U.S. government alone uses a lot of interns in various capacities. And it’s highly competitive. For the reasons we talked about earlier.

Perlin: Well, I think it’s hard to know what the degree of public support for interns is. In the UK, the public has been polled on the issue. And there’s a very strong feeling that interns should be paid. And a very strong majority feels that what goes on now is wrong. In the U.S., it’s hard to know. But I suspect you would still see most people thinking interns should be paid. But there are complex feelings. And I think that part of it is because there is, as you say, a strange dichotomy. Interns are both privileged and exploited at the same time. They’re privileged in the sense that they do have access to this experience that might put them over the top. That they can get into the white-collar workforce. They’re not in as bad a situation, arguably, as people who simply cannot pay to play and will never break into the white-collar workforce.

(Image: “The New Interns” by Nik Wilets)

Categories: Ideas