Anne Enright (BSS #417)

Anne Enright is most recently the author of The Forgotten Waltz.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Troublesomely willing to sign on the dotted line.

Author: Anne Enright

Subjects Discussed: Writing a novel as a minute allegory of the Celtic Tiger, Gresham’s law, books with shifting moral alignment, marriage as a financial relationship, punctuation and subordinate clauses in prose, David Mamet, Caryl Churchill, people who interrupt each other, male and female dialogue, Enright being one of the great penis chroniclers in contemporary literature, the hydraulics of hard-ons, Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium,” The Gathering vs. The Forgotten Waltz, flesh and fat in fiction, how women think about anatomy, stigmas against women writers, how character names can be used to describe fraught relationships, unsuccessful attempts to find a sexy Irish name for a man, Australian men, material that Enright would not write about, Catholicism and blasphemy, the specific conditions it takes to earn an injury, the relationship between spirituality and sensuality, Leonard Cohen, reflections and looks within Enright’s fiction, interior and exterior description, whether the world would be better if it were run by 12-year-old girls, characters who cling to what remains of youth, candid moments, the repression of consciousness, being blatant through the spirit of omission, faux partitive noun phrases, “the luxury of the kiss,” the origins of the character name Fiarcha, bountiful character populations in a novel, and old-fashioned knowledge.


Correspondent: I wanted to first of all ask you about the notion of this book possibly serving as a mini-allegory or a minute allegory. I noted that there was the Gresham Hotel, which nicely mimics Gresham’s law in this book. And there were a number of lines about the acquisition of things. Flirting with someone just to flirt with someone. So I have to ask how you honed the right amount of allegory for this. Or was that even important? Was it kind of a bonus that came to your interesting series of squabbles here?

Enright: Yeah. I think the thing about allegories is that they stay still. And what I wanted to do was to write a book that shifted morally. So it was more morally poised than an allegory might be. So it’s a book that can be read by the likes of the readers themselves. So whatever the reader thinks of Gina Moynihan, who is the central character and who is either a woman in love, wonderfully in love, or a homewrecker — depending on your point of view. So I wanted the readers to maybe even shift their points of view about what Gina’s up to. So it does parallel the boom in Ireland. So there is a kind of allegorical content there for adultery, that feeling of just getting what you want, of getting away with it, was very suitable to Ireland in the last ten years before the boom. When there was so much glee and a kind of fantasy and a kind of denial that was going on. Also a huge amount of belief. You had to believe. If you didn’t believe in the economic miracle, you were kind of heretic, you know? Because if you take belief out of the system, there’s nothing left. There’s only debt and not money anymore. It’s a confidence trick. So I thought all of that was brilliant for an adulterous affair. Because you’re living at two levels at the same time, which was pretty much what people were doing.

Correspondent: What’s interesting though is that it is money that has Gina and Conor marrying. Which I found to be an interesting choice. Gina’s view in terms of her relationships — whether it is Conor or Sean — is very much predicated upon, well, it happens to be there. And so this leads me to ask if this kind of moral concern predated the alignment with the Celtic Tiger and the like.

Enright: Money is both important and interesting. It’s also quite highly taboo. People don’t talk about their money. They think about money all the time. And they never or rarely articulate their relationship with money. Yeah. Gina and Conor get a mortgage almost before they get the wedding reception. But that was the reality. That is the reality in Ireland as it was. And I think in many places in the Western world, it was hard to find a place. And it was better to find a place if you were with somebody else. And I think marriage is also a financial relationship.

Correspondent: Yes.

Enright: Whether it’s primarily a financial relationship is — well, that varies from couple to couple. But I don’t think it was primarily here. I mean, Gina, she’s quite materialistic. But she’s not a greedy girl. I mean, she does think about money. But she’s not relentlessly acquisitive. It’s just that wanting is problematic when money is involved.

Correspondent: I also wanted to ask about the use of commas and dashes throughout the prose.

Enright: Oh! Nightmare!

Correspondent: A nightmare?

Enright: My nightmare! (laughs)

Correspondent: Well, it’s interesting because it does lend itself to a very conversational voice. But on the other hand, thinking of like The New York Times Book Review where you can always spot where they’ve edited it, where they have the dash and some sort of subordinate clause and then the dash, I’m curious as to how this worked for you. Whether some of these dashes and commas and various thoughts entered into the editing or were they there from the get go?

Enright: It was always a painful decision about punctuation. Gina is addicted to qualifications, subordinate clauses. A little bit more, a little on the side. The sentences don’t run really simply. It mirrors the way people think. I have a real problem, and I’m going to confess it to you now, with the run-on sentence and the semicolon. But I do like putting a clause in the middle of a sentence to disturb it a little.

Correspondent: The dashes, I suppose, are a more pure unit than say the colon.

Enright: Yes, they are. And they give a bit of space on the page. I like typing. Because I like the rhythm of typing. To me, it’s like dancing on a sprung floor. I like a bit of trip and a bit of rhythm in the prose. Because my narrators are often not omniscient. They don’t know exactly what the end of the sentence is. I like to surprise. I like to see their surprise as their thoughts leap along.

Correspondent: It would seem to me that this more free-form approach to prose will probably lend you to discover more about the characters.

Enright: For sure. But all the time, the content for me is a kind of given. And all the time, I’m trying to make the cadences and the rhythms somehow beautiful. And somehow to get the emotion and the poignancy into that rhythm. I mean, that to me is what it’s all about. And so I love the spoken voice on the page. I love the challenge of it. I mean, if you put a tape recorder on someone, they don’t speak in sentences.

Correspondent: Sure.

Enright: And the prose. Of course, even if you write in realistic type, first-person, it’s a mannered thing. David Mamet. There’s a guy who I love to read as well as…

Correspondent: The earlier Mamet. Not the more recent one. (laughs)

Enright: The earlier Mamet. And, you know, I worked in the theater very early on. And Caryl Churchill as well. Do you know Churchill puts a forward slash before interruptions?

Correspondent: Yes.

Enright: People interrupting each other on stage. Which is actually the way women talk. They rap off each other. It’s more improvisational. A kind of jazz thing that they do. So they’re always interrupting each other. Men are slightly more territorial about their speech. I’d love to be able to do that on the page. But, you know, it would wreck people’s head.

Categories: Fiction

Roger Corman (BSS #416)

In addition to directing some of the most memorable and entertaining drive-in movies of the 20th century (among many other accomplishments), Roger Corman is most recently the subject of a new documentary called Corman’s World, which is now playing film festivals and is set for release on December 16.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Not of this earth.

Guest: Roger Corman

Subjects Discussed: Corman’s infamous cost-cutting measures, unusual marriage proposals, bloated corporations, Occupy Wall Street, comparisons between Zuccotti Park and 1960s protests, keeping tabs on pop culture, not giving stars and directors a few bucks to stay around, Easy Rider, the philosophy behind the Corman university, picking people on instinct and the qualities that Corman looks for in a potential talent, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, directors who move up the ladder, The Intruder, why Corman didn’t make explicit socially conscious films after 1962, financing pictures with your own money, the financial risks of being ahead of the curve, looking for subtext in the nurses movies, the sanctimony of Stanley Kramer, Peter Biskind’s “one for me, one for them” idea, simultaneous exploitation and empowerment, the minimum amount of intelligence that an exploitation film has to contain, throwing calculated failures into a production slate, distributing Bergman and Fellini through New World, why Corman believes it was impossible to produce and distribute independent art house movies in the United States in the 1960s and the 1970s, the importance of film subsidies, why Corman gave up directing, Von Richthofen and Brown, the allure of Galway Bay, getting bored while attempting to take time off, the beginnings of New World, the many breasts in Corman’s films, Annabelle Gurwitch’s “Getting in Touch with Your Inner Bimbo,” targeted incidental nudity opportunities, enforcing nudity clauses in contracts, questioning why actresses can’t be sexy without taking their tops off, Rosario Dawson, the undervalued nature of contemporary films, and Corman’s thoughts on how future filmmakers can be successful.


Correspondent: I have to get into your eccentric temperament right from the get-go. There is a moment in this documentary where your wife Julie confesses that you proposed to her. And she said yes. Then you disappeared for a week into the Philippines. And she tried to get in touch with you and finally did get in touch with you and asked, “Well, is the marriage still on?” And you said, “Oh yes, of course.” Your justification was, well, you didn’t want to pay the expense of long-distance telephone. I told this story to my partner and I thought it was amusing. But she was absolutely horrified by this. And this leads me to ask if the notorious reputation you have for aggressive cost-cutting, perhaps one of the finest cost-cutters in the history of cinema — well, how much does this lead into your personal life? And your private life? I mean, surely, when you’re talking about sweethearts and fiancĂ©es, you can afford to spend at least a buck or something. I mean, come on!

Corman: Well, that story is possibly true. But the fact of the matter is I’d been in the jungle. At that time, there were no phones. So that was the real reason for the call.

Correspondent: That was the real reason. But this does raise an interesting question. I mean, under what circumstances will you, in fact, pay the regrettable cost of maintaining a relationship like this? Whether it be professional or private.

Corman: Well, I would have to divide that into two answers. Privately, and particularly with my wife and children, I’m much more liberal in spending than I’d ever been on films. On films, I really watch every penny.

Correspondent: Yes. But are there any circumstances you’ve regretted? Either spending extra money or not spending the dollar? Or not spending the dime so to speak?

Corman: I don’t think I regret any overspending. I think, once or twice, I should have let pictures go a little longer and spent a little bit more. These were pictures that were coming in on budget and on schedule. I might have added a couple of extra days to the shooting schedule. But I felt this was a fifteen day schedule. This is the thirteenth day. I have to make a decision. We’re going to shoot it in fifteen days. In retrospect, had I gone to sixteen or seventeen, the additional quality — for lack of a better word — might have been greater than the expenditure.

Correspondent: Well, what’s the cost-benefit analysis for this quality to spending ratio that you’ve devised over the years? Is it largely instinctual? Is it largely looking aggressively at the books? What of this?

Corman: It’s a combination of all of the above, plus just the calculation. I’m always looking for the greatest quality. I’ve done pictures — The Little Shop of Horrors — in two and a half days. I did that with very little money. But I did the best possible job I could do with the amount of money. So I’m looking for the highest possible quality. But since I back my pictures with my own money, which is something you’re never supposed to do, I have to be certain — well, I shouldn’t say certain. I have to have a reasonable guess that I’m going to come out of this one okay.

Correspondent: Do you think that such brutal, Spartan-like tendencies might be applied to, oh say, balancing the federal budget? Or perhaps creating a more efficient Department of Defense? Do you have any ideas on this?

Corman: Well, I believe that it isn’t just the federal government. I believe large corporations or the Department of Defense, which of course is part of the federal budget — I think there’s a certain inherent waste in any large organization, whether it’s public or private. I think they all could be streamlined or — let me put it this way, I think they all should be streamlined. But I question whether it can be done. Because the bureaucracies are in place. And it’s very, very difficult to move.

Correspondent: It’s difficult, I suppose, not just in motion pictures, but for everybody right now. Do you have any thoughts on the present Occupy Wall Street movement that’s been going on in this city while you’ve been here?

Corman: Weirdly enough, I was at the Occupy Wall Street meeting — or sit-in. Whatever you want to call it.

Correspondent: You went to Zuccotti Park?

Corman: Yeah. Just about an hour ago.

Correspondent: Really?

Corman: I donated a little money and they had a couple of pictures taken of me there. Which they said they wanted to use in some way. And I told them I was totally in support of what they’re doing.

Correspondent: I’m surprised you weren’t down there with a movie camera getting master shots for a later production based on Zuccotti Park or something like this. There should be an Occupy Wall Street movie. Is there some possible narrative? Some bucks in this?

Corman: Well, it’s the kind of thing I did before in the 1960s, with the various protest meetings and anti-Vietnam demonstrations. I was there with cameras. And we did use the footage. And this one at the moment isn’t quite that big. If it grows, however, that will be a different thing.

Correspondent: Well, did you see it at Times Square on Saturday? It was actually 15,000 people. And it was pretty aggressive with the cops arresting people. 88 people that day too.

Corman: We came in on Saturday.

Correspondent: Oh, I see.

Corman: And actually I saw opposite ends of New York. I came in, went straight to the opera, went straight from the opera to Comic Con to sign autographs. So I figured if I went from New York to the opera to Comic Con, I saw various aspects of New York.

Correspondent: Well, this leads me to ask you about how you collect your ideas or how you maintain your attentions as to what’s going on in contemporary society. It seems to me that going down to Zuccotti Park, you’re still very much interested in finding out what the present concerns are. I mean, how often do you do this now in your daily life? Just to keep tabs. How do you know, for example, that Hell’s Angels or LSD or Zuccotti Park might be a salable idea?

Corman: These are just aspects of pop culture that come to the surface. And I’ve been involved in all the previous ones. Or most of them, one way or another. And the Occupy Wall Street movement is new. And I went just to see what it was like. And it was strange. There’s a real similarity to the 1960s here. And I don’t know if the young people of today know that what they’re doing, the signs they have, the music they had playing, the discussions — it brought me right back to 1968.

Correspondent: Do you see any differences by chance?

Corman: I saw very little differences. I did notice this. The police were not antagonistic. They were standing there. But I didn’t see any of them make any harmful moves. Where in the ’60s, I did see police make harmful moves. Maybe they’ve learned something over the years.

Categories: Film

Susan Orlean (BSS #415)

Susan Orlean is most recently the author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering an alternative timeline with the golden retriever rising as the heroic dog of choice.

Author: Susan Orlean

Subjects Discussed: Rin Tin Tin references in Finnegans Wake, Rinty’s indefinable charm, Jack London, dogs in World War I, the state of marketing in different time periods, flawed people and dog heroes in early animal films, soldiers reading poetry, mass cultural mediums and heroic animal images, emotional connections with animals, Burt Leonard’s desperate efforts to revive Rin Tin Tin, Paul Klein impersonating Lee Aaker at conventions, Rin Tin Tin as the blank slate for the American obsession, Strongheart, Rinty’s durability as an American icon, devotion to dogs, a tense 1955 photo shoot with Lassie and Rin Tin Tin appearing on the cover of TV Guide, fierce competition between Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, having “bitten exclusively” written into a contract, Daphne Hereford and Rinty’s obsessive defenders, sinking one’s savings into battling intellectual property law, the perils and nature of giving into passion, knowing Lee Duncan through records, going through a dead man’s ATM slips, respect and “intimate eavesdropping” into subjects, occupational hazards in quirky journalism, cultivating trust with subjects, the bigness of passion, avoiding Rin Tin Tin overload, the rising population of German Shepherds in the 20th century, whether Rinty was bad in any way for history, the rise of fascism, and contrary images that meet on the battlefield.


Correspondent: I wanted to start off with something unusual. I had found this accidentally. Because I started to read Finnegans Wake a month ago. I’m now on Page 20. But on Page 12, I was very happy to find this. There is this passage: “She knows her knight’s duty while Luntum sleeps. Did ye save any tin? says he.” Now this comes after Joyce has laid down all sorts of Germanic references. And of course, While London Sleeps? Rin Tin Tin film.

Orlean: Right.

Correspondent: So this seems as good a pretext as any to ask, well, if Rin Tin Tin got the approval of James Joyce, what accounts for his appeal? What accounts for his enduring popularity? What is the ultimate quality of Mr. Rinty here?

Orlean: You know, I think, in a way, that you can’t quite answer that is the answer. There’s a kind of charisma that certainly the first Rin Tin Tin had, but also this symbol of a dog, which is a dog who is brave and true and loyal and heroic. That resonates with people. He embodied it — especially the first Rin Tin Tin — so well that I think it touched something that was already there. The desire to have a superhero who was credible and not some comic book figure, but actually something real.

Correspondent: Krypto before Krypto.

Orlean: Yeah.

Correspondent: A superdog to match a superman.

Orlean: Exactly. I also think that, if you could say what it is that makes something endure, you’ve ruined it in a way. That there is something mysterious and wonderful about something that connects something with so many people and that lasts for so long, that shouldn’t be something you could put in words. I think that it defines itself by being something emotional that you feel and that you respond to. That can’t quite be described.

Correspondent: Well, I want to point out something you mentioned in the book. You point out that in the 19th century, dogs had only been recently domesticated. They were considered to have deep feelings. They were capable of expressing their emotions more than humans. Now I should point out that Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and White Fang — well, this was only fifteen years before the Rin Tin Tin film. I’m wondering. How did World War I, I suppose, tilt this fixation from dogs as emotional beings to this heroic quality that we’re talking about? Was hero worship the next inevitable stage in the evolution of this man-dog perception situation?

Orlean: Well, for one thing, there were so many dogs in the war. People in World War I saw dogs performing heroically. When you think of a battlefield and dogs being brave and being companionable and working hard, which they did, and maybe not showing as much fear as a soldier might — because dogs don’t have the apprehension of death or the worry of mortality the way people do. So they have the chance to be brave in a way people can’t. So there’s no question that seeing dogs and being alongside dogs in the war had a very huge impact on their perception. I mean, there were tens of thousands of dogs in World War I. So I imagine this entire generation of soldiers coming back, filled with awe. It was also a time where dogs were working not as our servants — the way they might have on a farm or a ranch, but as equals pretty much. I mean, dogs were in the trenches with soldiers. So the feeling that they were our partners almost more than our possessions arose during that time.

Correspondent: Well, you mention this move toward the cities.

Orlean: Right.

Correspondent: That’s still ongoing even in our time. It’s interesting to me that we went from dogs being perceived as “Well, let’s figure out when they’re domesticated, when they come from the wild, and vice versa.” Those two Jack London novels. And then you have this situation when suddenly they’re fighting wars with us.

Orlean: Right.

Correspondent: I’m wondering what it is about that turns a dog into a hero as opposed to some emotional being or tapping into some sort of primordial instinct or what not. Do you think that the original folks — Lee Duncan and company — sort of knew that they had to push the dog thing further?

Orlean: I think what Lee did was totally instinctual. I don’t think he was somebody who did a lot of strategizing and projecting forward what would be good. And, in fact, I think that’s part of what’s so touching about him. He seemed to be somebody who was really responding entirely out of this feeling of “I have this wonderful dog and I want you to appreciate how wonderful he is” rather than “Hmmm, I can make some money off of this if we write scripts that make him such and so.” Remember too that people consumed entertainment in an entirely different way in the ’20s. It wasn’t the juggernaut that it is today. You come up with a good character. You can then merchandise it and turn it into a multi-platform marketing device. It wasn’t like that. I think it was a simpler thing. How the idea of the heroic character evolved? Well, first of all, animals very often appeared in early literature as having heroic qualities that were selfless. I think selflessness is something that an animal can have more easily than a person.

Correspondent: Or it’s easier to understand altruism when it’s placed within an animal as opposed to a man.

Orlean: Exactly. And I think that it may seem a little funny to us now. But when you look at an animal doing something heroic, you don’t project a million things onto it. You don’t think “Oooh, he reminds me of my Uncle Milton who I didn’t like that much” or “I’m sick of this type of person always being the hero” or “She isn’t my race or gender or color” or whatever. A dog is something else. So you can look at it and admire it and maybe be in awe of it without bringing a lot of your own baggage to it. It’s not a person. You don’t look at it with the critical eye that you might look at a person with. So there’s a way that it’s easier to be thrilled by them and not have that reserve of thinking, “Oh, I don’t know.” I mean, it’s funny in those films. The early Rin Tin Tin films. The people are all so flawed. Each one of them has some terrible character flaw. Even the heroes among the humans have some — they’re either naive or they’re — they all fail. And whether that’s some aftermath of the war, in which people saw what terrible things people could do to each other. That feeling that human beings were deeply flawed. Maybe that’s what made a dog a hero that could be admired more freely and with less reservation.

Categories: Ideas

Yannick Murphy III (BSS #414)

Yannick Murphy’s most recent novel is The Call. She has previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #158 and The Bat Segundo Show #41.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Terrified of picking up the telephone.

Author: Yannick Murphy

Subjects Discussed: Chatty people named Ed, imagining the proper format for an illusory veterinary log, husbands who claim prodigious memory, how little bits of anecdotes help fiction, the virtues of limitations and structure, the candor in Here They Come vs. the candor in The Call, seasonal cycles, working with editor Maya Ziv, how fiction can be inspired by thinking about things in a car, the national economical environment, sensing possibilities without having a sense of time, publishing a book as a paperback original instead of a hardcover, crackpots who telephone you at home, earning the right to know the name of the character, the unanticipated origin of fictional spacemen, being asked by Dave Eggers to contribute a “sci-fi story,” Kirk Maxey and sperm donors, inventing thoughts of mice, flies, and other animals, judgment in contemporary fiction, avoiding cliches while pursuing earnestness, independent will and work, balancing ambiguous and precise description to relay the observational spirit, injecting life into side characters, and characters who read within a novel.


Correspondent: I was really honored to identify with the Ed who likes to talk with people. I don’t know if I was possibly an inspiration. That might be presumptuous of me. But it was nice to see a very chatty Ed in your novel.

Murphy: Okay. Well, you might have been at the back of my mind, but…

Correspondent: The rearest. First off, I wanted to determine where the daily log format arose from. Call, Action, Results. This is what is the framework of the book. I’m wondering if you consulted specifically with log books — your husband is a veterinarian — and whether you scoured through that. Did you try varying formats before you found something that was just right? What of this?

Murphy: Well, I think the idea came from the fact that my husband doesn’t keep any call logs. And I’m always wondering why not. That would be something I would do. I would know who I visited on what date and what I did to actually treat that specific animal. And he says, “No. I don’t need that. I just remember this stuff. Or, if I don’t remember it, it really isn’t relative to the next case that the animal may have or that I’m treating the animal for.” So I think it arose out of my disbelief that he doesn’t have this kind of system.

Correspondent: How does he stay organized?

Murphy: He’s pretty organized.

Correspondent: Just no log.

Correspondent: He’s one of those people who remembers. And I always thought, “What if he had a call log? What would it look like?” Because it certainly wouldn’t look like what I think it should like. It probably would look more like the book, or how the book is written. Where it’s his ruminations on the world and ruminations on just driving around and who he meets. He loves to talk with people and he really has a knack with the New Englanders. Even though they tend to be stoic, he can draw out their life stories. So what I find really fascinating is when I go along with him on those visits and he engages people and gets them talking and it’s this kind of windfall for me. Because I get to hear their stories that I would never dare to ask. Because I’m more shy than he is.

Correspondent: Well, this leads me to ask two questions. But let’s talk about these stories. How many of these anecdotes did you make up? And how many of them came from your husband’s chronicles?

Murphy: Most of them came from his chronicles. Some were mixed up with others. I think very few I had to imagine completely. There was a little bit of inspiration behind all of them that was based on a real incident.

Correspondent: Yes. So having little bits of the story helped to have your imagination fire up and invent further?

Murphy: Right. Right.

Correspondent: Well, what about the actual log format itself? If you had no logs at home, did you consult any veterinarian associations? Other veterinarians?

Murphy: No. No. I just started writing. Okay, what is the reason the veterinarian is going out on the call? Well, I’ll call that THE CALL. And then, okay, ACTION. What did I do there? RESULT. How did that end up? And then when he would leave that particular farm, then it was what I saw on the drive home. WHAT THE WIFE COOKED FOR DINNER. So I was able to integrate his home life with his work life that way.

Correspondent: What’s interesting though is, as you read the book, you find that he isn’t able to compartmentalize as much as he thinks he can. I mean, we start to see that even though he starts to think of something, it then goes into describing the action. And what’s also interesting is that, when you have WHAT THE WIFE SAID, you often have him interjecting. It’s almost as if WHAT THE WIFE SAID is like an open quote with which to carry on here. And so I’m curious. To what degree were you conscious of this design? Or did this just happen through the course of a sentence in this book in the early draft?

Murphy: Well, I knew partway in — maybe a couple pages in — that the structure had to be a little more wieldy than what I had set up. I knew that I was going to run into trouble really fast and that I had to have as much fun with it as I could. So when you set up a structure like that, sometimes you can have a lot of freedom with it. Because you’re in the structure. So you can see where places are that you need to jump out of. It actually — for some reason having the imposition of a structure actually liberates my writing a lot more. So I know that as long as I stay within that framework, I can say anything I want to say. Which makes it a lot more fun.

Categories: Fiction