Tag : book

Daniel Woodrell (BSS #517)

Daniel Woodrell is most recently the author of The Maid’s Version.

Author: Daniel Woodrell


Subjects Discussed: Twists within Woodrell’s fiction, Thelonious Monk, mysterious narrators, William Kennedy’s Albany Cycle, The Flaming Corsage and Very Old Bones as deeply underrated novels, the snapshot montage approach to presenting history through fiction, how general observations identify people who lived 85 years before, the cemetery as the ultimate marker of memory, the novelist’s obligation to history, why it’s important to explore perspectives foreign to your own, Tomato Red as the creative turning point for Woodrell, the close connections between heightened language and heightened perspective, how respect for a town manifests itself in unusual ways, Ozark vernacular, referring to a cop as “John Law,” “Parmesan” vs. “sprinkled cheese,” consulting the OED, food in Woodrell’s novels, tasty variants of Depression stew, fatback, what people get wrong about stew, hack stew, prostitution, how Woodrell cultivated his knowledge of hookers, junior high school crushes who turn into hookers, people who manipulate others, knowing most of humanity by living in a small town, why there isn’t street crime in the Ozarks, crime that occurs among acquaintances, criminal strangers who lurch into tough guy mode, fighting against the cliche of the guy who wants an easy fight in a small town, Tony Danza’s boxing skills, why it’s important to lose fights, testifying against your cousin, how to create distinctive characters, Plug’s character in The Maid’s Version, families who accept aberrant behavior within kin, not prying into other people’s business, regional literature defined by acceptance of strange behavior, how reading Southern literature tilts real-life concerns, feeble attempts to deny knowledge of William Faulkner, the appeal of Cormac McCarthy’s darker novels, The Bayou Trilogy, Ed McBain’s Isola, how home life is defined in Woodrell’s novels, being more aware of the exterior of homes rather than the interior, reading novels as a way of knowing other regions, Comte de LautrĂ©amont’s knowing narrator style, how illusion creates energy, the urge to feel uncertain, how shaky sales creates creative freedom, the decline of book review sections, why publishers believed in Woodrell with a terrible sales track, disasters and population ratios, the effect of a dance hall explosion on a small town vs. the Boston Marathon bombing, when larger cities don’t always comprehend the impact of disasters, why small towns permit more speculation than metropolitan clusters, the comforts of seemingly conscious forces, grief and belief culture, Woodrell’s abandoned San Francisco novel, why San Francisco didn’t work as a setting for Woodrell, Eddie Muller and the Noir City Film Festival, the joys of film noir, Woodrell’s Vietnam novel, Woodrell’s past experience as a Marine, antiwar protests, growing to accept the necessity of certain types of civil disobedience, false promises from the military, and fiction writing and political impulses.


Correspondent: We’ve seen twists in your books before. I think of the brutal Civil War swap that opens up Woe to Live On. I think of the relationship revelation after that house break in Tomato Red. But in this book [The Maid’s Version], you have been extremely opaque about the narrator’s identity to the point of, I will confess, mild frustration. But then I started to get into what you were doing. I’m wondering why this opacity, along with the fragmented sense of history, more your style this time around. I’m wondering if this was a formal exercise to see how much material you could pack into a 165 page novel.

Woodrell: Well, I didn’t want to turn it into being about him so much directly. I wanted him to be in a position to know a lot of things and to observe things and to report things. In many ways, this book has a style that would fit nonfiction. Quite a bit of it. And that was also by design. Because I had felt that he was trying to relay fiction. And so I wanted him to be a little bit outside. He’s not the most important person in the book, or even very important. Just as a messenger of the story. And I did really wrestle with this book in terms of what size to make it. I tried to initially make it a big fat one and include everyone in it. It just got out of shape so badly that I essentially threw it away. I eventually realized, “Just The Maid’s Version. Just get down to the bone. To the part that really matters to you.” Or as Thelonious Monk once said, “Just play the notes you really mean.” And I kind of took that to heart here. Just played the notes I really meant.

Correspondent: When you say this was going to be “a big fat one,” what were the original drafts looking like? I mean, you say that you were reporting here. And I’m wondering, given the economy of the final product so to speak, how expansive did you get here?

Woodrell: Well, there were a lot of different rumors about what may have or may not have happened. There were a lot of different players who could have come into the picture briefly or at more length. Even the little bios of some of the victims were originally quite a few pages a piece. And it began to lose shape and focus and it wandered too much for me. And that’s a little bit depressing sometimes. When you get to page 100 and something and you say, “I think I can use ten of these.”

Correspondent: By the way, can we actually confess the narrator’s name? I guess we can.

Woodrell: Yeah. His name is…

Correspondent: Alek.

Woodrell: Alek. He is named a few times.

Correspondent: He is. He is. I didn’t know the extent of spoilers. I’ve seen reviews do this. So he’s Alek. Out of the bag.

Woodrell: And there have been people who read it and didn’t catch his name. They didn’t know he had a name. No, he is named.

Correspondent: Yes.

Woodrell: It didn’t occur to me. (laughs)

Correspondent: Did this book start with Alek? How did the reporting and how did the wrestling with history become such a part of this book? We can talk about the fire that is actually a real dance hall fire in 1928 that is also in this book. So what caused your imagination to wander into this factual milieu?

Woodrell: Well, I’d heard about this ever since I was old enough to be told this kind of detail. And I eventually began to learn there were a lot of versions or rumors about what might or might not have happened. And the very first time I attempted to get into this, it was omniscient and there was no Alek and there was no particular focus on the Dunahew family. It was going to be pretty tightly — there was a Wiliam Kennedy book I liked. A lot of other people didn’t seem to.

Correspondent: Which one? Very Old Bones?

Woodrell: The Flaming Corsage. And Very Old Bones. Both of them.

Correspondent: Very Old Bones, I feel, is very underrated.

Woodrell: I think it is too. I really like that. I love Kennedy. Period. So I’m not really capable of being unbiased toward him. But I liked that a lot. And I felt like it moved a certain story through history rather well and it certainly kept me going.

Correspondent: So his montage nature, I think, in that book appealed to you for this?

Woodrell: Yeah. It did.

Correspondent: That’s interesting. That totally makes sense.

Woodrell: So originally it was going to be here’s the maid for a minute and then here’s someone else and here’s someone else, and they’re all linked together. And the story would expand from there and go forward. But slowly over a period of time, I realized that the personal part of it, the Dunahew family’s interior relationship to this, was fundamental to me really. I just hadn’t recognized how important that part of it was to me. And it began to seem to me that that was the way to go into this.

Correspondent: I’m curious. At what point did the dance hall start to inform the snapshot approach? Was it more the dance hall? Or the Kennedy book The Flaming Corsage?

Woodrell: Well, you go around town talking about the real event, you get little snippets. And a number of the victims are remembered by one thing that was notable about them or that was often reported. “She played the piano” or “He was a good ballplayer.” Or something like that. And so over a period of time, these characters, as they’re discussed, are sitting around time with other citizens. They begin to have the one, two, or three things that have stuck about them in the minds of the people there. And I began to realize, “Yeah, that’s right. There are certain essential qualities of people that linger for 85 years. They should live here.” So that kind of informed those. And I definitely wanted the victims to be brought forward somehow. And I didn’t want it all to just be thirty-five people walking toward the dance or something like that.

Correspondent: Sure. So you felt a responsibility to imbue the victims with some kind of identity as opposed to being random names. This brings me to the cemetery, which forms a serious part of this book. I mean, Alma always ends her walks there, we learn at the very beginning. But then we learn about the dance hall owner, whose past is actually revealed through the cemetery. A lot of his associations. And I was wondering first and foremost, well, did you wander around the cemetery yourself looking for leads here? Or was this kind of a way for you to remind both the readers and also to imbue the town with additional life? I mean, here is this marker of memory. All these people have died. And you can’t escape your legacy. I mean, what was the appeal of this?

Woodrell: Well, by an accident of just chance, a fair portion of my family are buried only about fifteen feet from the memorial. So all my life, when we’d go over to put the flowers down for Memorial Day and so forth, I’d think, “What’s this?” And then slowly that would develop. And then also, by happenstance, a number of the people who were identified are also buried near there. That was the section of the cemetery that was then being filled. So as I began learning more and more of the names of the people who were actually relevant to the event, I began to realize, “Oh! They’re all planted around here.” So that very fact resonated with me. I’m not…I never say what happened. Because I don’t know what happened. I chose a story that really rang for me and went with it. But I could walk around town and find a number of people who are still debating a lot of different angles that I never really suggested.

Correspondent: This leads me to ask. What obligation do you really have to history? I mean, this isn’t your first historical novel. You explored the Kansas Irregulars in the Civil War novel. In this, you’re dealing with something that’s a little bit more local than that — and also your family history. I mean, the Civil War — even the Kansas Irregulars — offers a really wide canvas for the imagination to bristle. But in this, you’re dealing with something that is so hyperlocal that I wonder if you have any problems bending the truth as fiction requires or whether you run with the actual basis and let things go into place from there.

Woodrell: Well, none of the people who were allegedly in the periphery of this or maybe even toward the center of it appealed to me as members of the community and as historical figures, but not as fictional characters. I didn’t feel drawn to write about people with some of the characteristics that these rumored individuals actually presented. And I specifically didn’t want to write about the wealthy in town sitting around twisting their mustaches thinking of villainy to perpetrate upon the lower classes.

Correspondent: Was there a real banker?

Woodrell: There was a banker who was sometimes mentioned as having had something involved maybe. But he was a much more dangerous kind of guy and a relentless skirt chaser and all that. Not the character that I found myself writing about. It was in the same way that I ended up writing about the Southern bushwhackers instead of the Northern [in Woe to Live On]. I had originally started out to write a book about the Northern. And then I realized that that was actually a little too easy for me to inhabit that sensibility. And it was more of a stretch for me politically and as a person to try to get inside the other side and what was making them tick. So I wanted this character to be someone that it would be more of a surprise if he were accidentally or purposely involved in something.

Correspondent: So part of the appeal of The Maid’s Version and all these little bits and anecdotes you were collecting was to really inhabit the Other. In this way.

Woodrell: Yeah. As time went on, I realized more and more it’s the key to the whole book — to me anyway. It’s the Dunahew family story. That the dance hall and some of the surrounding qualities of that or aftereffects of that were propellants to the Dunahew family’s shift over a generation and a half or two.

Correspondent: I actually really wanted to ask you about a tilt in your writing style that I detected with Tomato Red, where suddenly you have sentences that demand almost this total life through language. Of course, a lot of this is evident because of that amazing first paragraph in Tomato Red, but I wanted to point it out by reading one of the sentences from Tomato Red: “This Pinto pooted small gray distress signals from the tailpipe and sounded like a chain-smoker at a cold dawn and practically shrieked for a civil rights lawyer when I forced it up hills.” So aside from the simile, we have “Pinto pooted.” We have “up hills” split into two words. I’m wondering, with this book, did you need to have that voice of Sammy Barlach to just really get these sentences? Is perspective really the way for you to evolve as a stylist? I was hoping to get something.

Woodrell: Yeah. Very much. And Sammy was probably the first voice I did that was quite — he’s not unhinged or anything, but he definitely sees everything from a little bit of a different angle than most of us probably do. And I thought of Sammy very much as an Expressionist. He’s looking at the real world but he’s just not seeing it exactly the way most people see it. And so that began to suggest a richness of language because of the insights he was having that kind of called for that. And it wouldn’t be any fun for me to write if I wasn’t allowed to let the language run amuck and then hopefully, if it’s really amuck, I’ll catch it in time to trim it back. (laughs) But that’s a big motivating force for me to write at all.

Correspondent: I was wondering if that was the aha moment for you. I mean, I like the other books before that. But that one really amps things up to this level where the language and the character are absolutely one in a way that it continues with the subsequent books. And it’s interesting that with The Maid’s Version, you go to this more succinct approach to also try and inhabit the sentence. Did the structure of this book — was it almost an obstacle for the language perspective approach? I was wondering about that.

Woodrell: Well, Tomato Red — and I would agree with you on that. I have often said that I felt that something started to click there. I wasn’t fully cognizant of just what all was going on. In fact, it was only when I had an occasional look at it maybe a year after I’d finished it, I began to recognize more of what was going on in there. And in this book, I didn’t want one character to tell the story in such a forceful way that they precluded all other possible interpretations or something. That it was just so forcefully about them that they would overshadow everything else. And that’s part of the reason why Alek is a little to the side. It’s also a book where I have a bunch of, you know, “motherfucker this motherfucker that.” And it wasn’t really on purpose initially. And then I was reading through it and I realized, “Oh! Where’s your standard?” (laughs)

Correspondent: I think though that the respect for the grief of this town is probably what motivates that. And maybe, it would seem to me anyway, that what you’re trying to do language-wise with this was to give voice to the town as opposed to one solitary perspective. Is that safe to say?

Woodrell: Yeah. And people are introduced as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” A generation and a half or two ago almost, that would be standard. The lady next door was not Joan. She was Mrs. Henry Eastall. And that suggests a certain kind of decorum and regard and circumspection.

(Loops for this program provided by vlalys, danke, maikeeelx, and megapaul.)

Categories: Fiction

Sara Levine (BSS #437)

Sara Levine is most recently the author of Treasure Island!!!


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Seeking elusive parrot memoirs.

Author: Sara Levine

Subjects Discussed: Ways to state exclamation marks in conversation, unreliable narrators, verbal flair, taking qualities away from a character to create a voice, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, on Levine not believing that an author has a “real” voice, the academy perspective, unnamed protagonists (referred to as “UP” during the conversation), surrounding an unpleasant character with very nice people, how to separate an author’s viewpoint from a character’s unpleasant perspective, displaying items on tables, writing a book of short length, early drafts of Treasure Island!!!, being edited by Alice Sebold, parrots in heat, getting rid of fat jokes, stereotypical dialogue, American fiction that plays it safe, scabrous characters in contemporary fiction, political correctness and market conditions, creating family details, the inverse of a Facebook profile, placing the emphasis on ego, thinking of a book as a mindspace, not giving readers handles, Lydia Davis, the book’s Cymbeline-like ending, the endings of Victorian novels, four core values, author vs. character temperament, not being a good reader, Alain de Botton, “The Essayist is Sorry for Your Loss,” vocational experience, how to determine how to treat a parrot terribly, reading books about parrots, thinking about gender, living a life a certain way, and reading Stevenson biographies.


Correspondent: I’m not sure how we can say this while also respecting Stevenson. Shall we say Treasure Island Chk Chk Chk? Should we say Treasure Island — maybe Island with extra exuberance?

Levine: Yeah. I think it’s the exuberance I want.

Correspondent: Treasure [in high-pitched voice] Island!!! Something like that?

Levine: Yeah.

Correspondent: Okay. The author of Treasure [in high-pitched voice] Island!!! Sara Levine. How are you doing?

Levine: I’m fine. Thank you.

Correspondent: I’ll try to do less of that as the conversation progresses. But anyway, I wanted to first of all ask you about just what it takes to create such a winsome unlikable character and to perpetuate that for so long. How much do you feel is going over the line or enough? What do you need to do to invite the reader in to someone who is quite literally ineffable? There is no name for this character. So what of this? How does this start?

Levine: Well, how does it start? Or how do I do it? I guess those are the same.

Correspondent: How do you do it?

Levine: Well, I’ve always been interested in unreliable narrators. And part of what interests me is that there’s this gap between the narrator and the author, the implied author. And so I think what you have to do is vary that gap. If the character’s completely unlikable, despicable all the way through, the reader will toss the book aside. But I guess with this narrator, I thought, well, I’ll let her have a few things. I’ll take away compassion. I’ll take away generosity.

Correspondent: You took away quite a bit. (laughs)

Levine: Yeah, I took away a lot. But I will give her language. I will give her verbal flair. And I think that maybe that’s what keeps people interested.

Correspondent: Verbal flair? As opposed to the flair in Office Space. I mean, what do you mean by this?

Levine: Well, I just think she has a — I would say, a syntactically ambitious voice. It’s a very written book.

Correspondent: Taking qualities away. I mean, how did so many qualities get taken away over the course of this? I mean, is this just your inevitable reaction to generating conflict? To create someone who might even be described as sociopathic on some levels.

Levine: And has been. Well, you know, Stevenson himself had this idea about character formation. He said that it’s a kind of psychic surgery. And he described how he did Long John Silver, in fact. And he said, knife in hand, he thought about a friend of his. Henley. And then he cut away all his finer qualities. And left him with courage, but not much else. And I think that’s what I was interested in doing. Was taking somebody that I knew, but taking away those qualities that would help her on her passage. You know, for comic purposes.

Correspondent: So the verbal flair and the syntax — this is something of a buffer. This invites the reader into broaching someone who is just really unlikable normally, do you think?

Levine: I think. I mean, I think there has to be verbal energy there. She’s funny. If she weren’t funny, I don’t think it would be so fun to be in the company of someone like that.

Correspondent: So humor is the secret way with which to peer into these sordid human qualities.

Levine: Perhaps. Perhaps.

Correspondent: So really much of this was just really a way of keeping yourself entertained. That was really the m.o. for this book?

Levine: Well, yeah, and I’m also always interested in perception. What of my favorite parts of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is this tiny little part where the sister-in-law is talking about the money that her husband was supposed to leave to the girls. And within the course of one paragraph, although it’s third person, you watch her rationalize how they shouldn’t give the money to the girls. Maybe they’ll just give her some dishes. They’ll give them even the second best dishes. And so with this book, I think I was interested in rationalization and ego and certain psychological patterns. And so I wanted to let her be devious in ways. Ways that I think all people are devious. For the purposes of the story, she’s more devious than most.

Categories: Fiction

Janet Reitman (BSS #399)

Janet Reitman is most recently the author of Inside Scientology.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Always on the run.

Author: Janet Reitman

Subjects Discussed: Scientology and cults, the way Scientology works, Orthodox Judaism, Michael Sklar, tax-exempt religions, the religious elements used to form Scientology, esoteric religious movements in early 20th century Los Angeles, L. Ron Hubbard’s design as “a matter of practical business,” Hubbard’s connection with Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, tapping into what people are looking for, Hubbard’s migratory lifestyle, finding respect for L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology and materialism, the financial worth of exclusive knowledge, how Reitman managed to obtain access to the Church of Scientology’s inner sanctum, how fact-checking can be used to generate journalistic access, personal phone calls from Tom Cruise, Rolling Stone‘s editorial reaction to the Church of Scientology, Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker profile, efforts to remain objective about the Church of Scientology, the Church’s tendency to bury its critics in paper and lawsuits, the Church’s battle against the IRS, efforts to determine why the IRS abandoned its fight against the Church of Scientology, Operation Snow White, David Miscavige’s persuasive abilities, top officials at the IRS being harassed, missing cats and dogs, anonymous sources, L. Ron Hubbard’s “cure for homosexuality,” the Church of Scientology’s support for Proposition 8, attempts to determine if the Church remains homophobic, Paul Haggis quitting the Church over gay marriage, comparisons between the Church of Scientology and the Mormon Church, Scientology’s regular purging of its top officials, David Miscavige’s good points, Cathy Lee Crosby, Narconon, Scientology’s involvement with the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project, Nancy Cartwright, scant political oversight of “drug rehabilitation programs,” the death of Lisa McPherson, Joan Wood’s amended cause of death for McPherson, the Church using its financial resources to hire top forensic investigators in the McPherson case, discussing the underlying facts of the McPherson case, charges that the Church destroyed evidence in the McPherson case, Scientologist couples being split apart, various waivers, easily replaced Sea Org workers, behavior tolerated by Miscavige, strategic alliances between the Church of Scientology and other religions, efforts to expand the Church in the Internet age, the Church targeting the African-American community, money coming in from celebrities and normal people, offshoot groups from Scientology, and Scientology’s ethical code.


Correspondent: You write that Scientology “was not a ‘cult’ insofar as it did not require separation from mainstream society — though it encouraged its acolytes to ‘disconnect’ from those who were critical of Scientology.” Now sociologist Howard Becker’s idea of a cult generally emphasizes the private nature of personal beliefs or a group of people that isn’t especially organized. Given how private and sequestered Scientologists are about their beliefs, I’m wondering. If you took away the organization, could you call them a cult? How is Scientology not a cult?

Reitman; I don’t like to use the word “cult.” Because I find that as soon as you use that word, it immediately stigmatizes a group and also marginalizes them. And it also delegitimizes them and takes them less seriously. The reader, the listener, will immediately say, “Oh yeah. Whatever.” Right? So one of the reasons I don’t use that word is because in order for me to write a book about them, I have to take them very seriously. And they are legitimized in our country as a religion. Now we could have a five hour argument over whether or not various other religions are cults. And we could have pros and cons on each side of that argument.

Correspondent: Well, why can’t you be a cult and a religion?

Reitman: You probably can be. I’m not a cult expert. But what I say about Scientology in the book and what I believe is that, at its innermost core, it is a completely, totalistic, all-encompassing organization that demands absolute 100% adherence to the rules and to the leadership of David Miscavige, the head of the Church. And it was also like that with L. Ron Hubbard when L. Ron Hubbard was the head of the Church. But there are stratums of the way Scientology works. I’m not a cult expert. So I’m not really qualified to answer a lot of questions about cults. But one of the points about Scientology is that in the outermost level of your dedication, which is where a lot of the celebrities are, to them, to those people, it is not a cult. It’s either a religion or a process of self-help or a bunch of techniques that help their lives. And that’s the way it begins for them. Now I think that’s the way it begins for lots of other believers of other totalistic groups, right? But you can be in Scientology for twenty or thirty years and remain on that outside periphery. Somehow there are people who have remained in that strata. Most people do not. Most people enter further in. And the further in you go, the more controlling it is. But I think the main point is that, whether it is a “cult” or not, in our country, it’s legitimized as a religion. They are given tax exempt status. They’re recognized. They have more protections than the Orthodox Jews in certain regards. Scientologist parents can write off their children’s education, for example. There was a very famous case recently [Michael Sklar] of an Orthodox Jewish family that attempted to do the same thing. It went all the way up to the Supreme Court. They claimed the exact same protections as the Scientologists did. And theirs was knocked down.

Correspondent: Internally, you can’t call them a “cult.” But externally, by virtue of their tax exempt status, you can or cannot call them a “cult”?

Reitman: I don’t think that it really makes a difference whether or not they’re a “cult.” Do you know what they are? They’re a global corporation. That’s what they are. And they have all the dysfunction of any gigantic global powerful corporation. And that’s how I look at them. I tend to look at them that way. They have religious components absolutely. If you believe in them, that’s great for you. I’m not going to judge their beliefs. I don’t judge their beliefs. My book is about their practices, their organization, their impact, their influence on people who have subscribed to them and bought, literally bought, into Scientology. Because you can’t just do Scientology. You have to purchase Scientology. They’re a very commercially driven spiritual enterprise. That’s what they are.

Correspondent: I’ll get to Scientology in a minute. But just from a philosophical standpoint, because it is a business proposition, this does away with the “cult” nomen?

Reitman: I’m not going to comment on whether or not they’re a “cult.” It’s not interesting to me.

Correspondent: No problem. In your original Rolling Stone piece, you wrote that Scientology was “rooted in elements of Buddhism, Hinduism and a number of Western philosophies, including aspects of Christianity.” Yet you note in the book that L. Ron Hubbard wrote in this 1953 letter that he incorporated the religious angle as “a matter of practical business.” In the interests of staying objective, what specifically qualities of Scientology a unique religion? I mean, how much of this hodgepodge you identify in the Rolling Stone article was designed as “a matter of practical business?”

Reitman: I don’t think any of it was designed as “a matter of practical business” originally. I mean, I think that L. Ron Hubbard grew up in the ’20s. He was born in 1911. He essentially grew up, so to speak, into the ’20s and the ’30s during the Depression. He was a young man in the Depression. And he found himself in Los Angeles after World War II. And Los Angeles, during that period of the mid to late ’30s and the ’40s (and also the ’20s), was this booming religious ground, where all kinds of weird offshoot faiths, new faiths and offshoots of Christianity as well, were then really popular. And one of those areas was the Western esoteric tradition that he found himself getting to know very well through this association he had with Jack Parsons, who was a famous astrophysicist and secret wizard. Follower of Aleister Crowley. It’s one of everybody’s favorite stories: L. Ron Hubbard’s association with Jack Parsons. But I think that he took those aspects of esoteric thought, which were things like secret knowledge, ascending the ranks to gain more and more knowledge. And that was very common in L.A. It wasn’t just through Crowley. The Rosicrucians had a big church. There were lots of societies that were based on that kind of tradition. The sort of alternative, new-agey stuff that was really popular in the early 20th century and then became popular again towards the end of the 20th century. And I think that Hubbard was a guy who was really interested in philosophy and was interested in power. And he took probably some of the best parts, as well as some of the dysfunctional parts in terms of Freudian thoughts that Freud had discarded years earlier. But he took a wide variety of ideas. He manufactured them in a way that made them palatable to people who were not well-educated. That’s very important to know. People who did Scientology were very middle-class. They weren’t uneducated people. Some of them were extremely well-educated. But they were, for the most part, very average, mainstream in that this was religion or this was self-help or psychiatry, or an alternative to psychiatry for the masses. And at the time, these things were very exclusive. You couldn’t do psychiatry for example. You couldn’t go to a psychiatrist unless you had a tremendous amount of money to pay for a psychiatrist. There were only a few psychiatrists even in the United States practicing.

Corresepondent: Or you lived in New York. (laughs)

Reitman: You had to live in New York. You had to live in Los Angeles. Seriously. Maybe Chicago. Or in Washington. Maybe three or four cities in this country. His philosophy — his Dianetics philosophy — clearly tapped into something people were looking for. And Scientology, which was the offshoot of Dianetics, did as well. And the reason that it had this religious component was that people began to experience these past life recall moments, where they would be in these trances that you got into when you were doing these auditing sessions. And they would, all of a sudden, be thrown back to some previous life. This was spiritual to L. Ron Hubbard. It was spiritual to the people that were doing it. Whether or not they saw it as religious is very different than spiritual. It was spiritual to them. He then thought, “Hey, I can package spirituality and make it religion. And I can get a tax deduction. Or I can avoid having to deal with the U.S. government.” He was extremely paranoid of the government. It was a big deal. And remember this was during the Cold War.

Correspondent: And always on the move.

Reitman: Always.

Categories: Ideas

Marisa Meltzer (BSS #328)

Marisa Meltzer is most recently the author of Girl Power.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering why Liz Phair is running away.

Author: Marisa Meltzer

Subjects Discussed: Mapping out what it means to be a woman, leveling patriarchal playing fields, identity and feminist consciousness, siblinghood fantasies, Sassy Magazine, riot grrls, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pavement, relying too much on pop cultural breadcrumbs, The Spice Girls promoting a message without substance, Beverly Hills 90210, The Babysitters Club, what pop culture teenagers consume, Susan Douglas’s Where The Girls Are, Liz Phair, Bikini Kill, the ultimate distinctions between music of last 20 years and second wave 1960s reactions, postfeminism, real vs. fake empowerment, marketing forces, current generation of thirtysomethings describing themselves as “girls”, generational divides, “lady” used as code for another term, relationship between change in genre and change in terminology, Miley Cyrus, Kathleen Hanna refusing to be interviewed for the book, dangers about being selective with media to get the word out, the Internet as an underground medium, the riot grrl’s core message of girl-friendliness, commenting culture, fringe girl power, the Michigan’s Womyn Music Festival, Nancy Burchalter, Christina Aguilera collaborating with La Tigre, Beth Ditto posing naked on the cover of NME (and backlash), Marcel Karp’s Liz Phair blowjob fantasy, Mick Jagger, ways in which women are allowed to be sexual, Lilith Fair, wider varieties of female musicians with frank sexual desires, Grammy Awards, Lady Gaga as the first superstar of the Internet age, Kanye West’s intervention viewed in a patriarchal light, reading commentary before seeing things happen, reblogging, empowerment through appearance vs. genuine message, BeyoncĂ©’s strong onstage presence, Fiona Apple and Tori Amos referencing victimhood in their work, mining attention and profit from trauma, pop music’s effectiveness at getting under your skin, reaching young people with dissent-based messages, the college-age woman’s lack of interest in feminism (even when she considers herself empowered), living a feminist life, the constant use of irony in relation to feminism’s sincere aims, the irony-oriented pop culture of the 1990s, righteous indignation as a means of bringing back earnestness.


Correspondent: You quote Susan Douglas’s Where the Girls Are, in which Douglas notes that the women performing in the 1960s gave voice to all these inner warring selves. But she also notes later in her book — not quoted by you — that this period of music also captured the way that young women were caught between this entrapment and this freedom. Now some of the examples you use in the book, such as Phair, Bikini Kill, riot grrl culture in general, they tend to suggest more of the latter than the former. What do you think is the ultimate distinction between, say, the music of the last twenty years versus almost this second wave reaction to the 1960s?

Meltzer: That’s a hard question. You know, I’m reading her new book right now. And it’s all about the ’90’s and the past few decades. So I’ve been thinking about her a lot, but not so much the ’60’s. I think the distinction is that there’s so much more feminist rhetoric in culture now that, after the ’70’s, you had this postfeminist era — which is not a word that I’m a fan of. But in everything from advertising to music to television, there’s all this lip service and references to feminism and empowerment. But I don’t know how many actual empowerment there is. To me, that’s the difference. I think it’s really easy to think that we’ve come a long way musically or politically because there’s so much feminism around us. But I don’t know if it’s so substantive.

Correspondent: On the other hand, empowerment has been rather easily co-opted by marketing forces.

Meltzer: Yeah.

Correspondent: And so the question of what empowerment actually provides within this music, I suppose, is subject to the fluctuating market forces that may actually abscond with the inherent self-righteous truth of this message.

Meltzer: Yeah. I mean, the word “empower” is also just one of those words that, at this point, I don’t even know if it has much meaning. I feel like it’s been drained away by marketers. So it’s something that I have a lot of suspicion towards.

Correspondent: Yeah. Well, it begs the question of whether a phrase or a word — whether it be “riot grrl,” “girl power,” “lady” as you point out later in the book — if the terms are constantly shifting, then are the terms essentially meaningless? Or must one gravitate towards whatever terms are presently fashionable among young girls, or among culture at large, and just attempt to play this game of leapfrog?

Meltzer: Yeah. I do think that there is a certain amount of leapfrog. I think that there is a lot of fashion. I think of my mother’s generation — the baby boomers. And none of them describe themselves as girls. Whereas all of my friends — many of them in our thirties or even in our forties now — constantly use the word “girl” to describe ourselves, to describe other people, to describe people who are older than us, younger than us. And you see some real generational divides. And then you also see in divisions in terms of culture, where there was “grrl” and “girl power,” and suddenly that was taken over, and you had to start calling everyone “lady.” I hope that those terms don’t seem compulsory. But I do think that there can be a certain amount of feeling — it’s kind of like a password or a code. I think that — especially the term “lady” for the past few years — it was “Oh, you’re going to love this great lady.” Or “Have you seen this lady that’s making cupcakes at the flea market or the pop-up shop?” Or whatever. I think there’s a certain shorthand to it. But is it necessary? No. But I think that if it makes you feel good, if it makes you feel as if you’re in on something.

(Image: Shayla Hason)

Categories: Ideas

Percival Everett (BSS #295)

Percival Everett is most recently the author of I Am Not Sidney Poitier.



[For related links, check out Percival Everett Week over at Emerging Writers Network, as well as my specific thoughts about Everett’s most recent novel.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: He is not Percival Everett.

Subjects Discussed: Name-related jokes, puns and internal metaphors, the many ways to pronounce “Le-a,” literal misunderstandings, whether there really is a Ted Turner, Bill Cosby’s Pound Cake speech, Richard Power’s Generosity, the relationship between reality and fiction, truth vs. reality, the “magic” of writing, stress, on not paying attention to the publishing industry, making the next book, not caring about the reader, on not writing commercial successes, the impulse to entertain, Everett’s world of Dionysus, reader reactions and interpretations, having no affection for previous books, becoming a better writer, the “experimental” nature of Wounded, outlandish one-dimensional figures and subdued prose, I Am Not Sidney Poitier as a “novel of ideas,” on not knowing how to write a novel, artistic creation and gleeful sabotage, narrative worlds and anarchy, Everett’s novels as concrete recreations, loving children geniuses and idiots alike, worldbuilding, subverting subjective character understanding, limitations, writing novels as a playground, having an interest in religion while remaining an “apath,” psychics for horses, believing with character belief, laundry list descriptions, strategic use of language, the relationship between story and language.


Correspondent: I recently read Richard Powers’s forthcoming novel, Generosity, which deals with the notion of what a novel really is and what ideas and characters really are. And I’m very curious to put this question to you. To what degree do you need reality to start from? And to what degree do you feel the need to be faithful to reality? Or even faithful to real-life figures? Or can you accept a Percival Everett figure in this who also happens to have a book called Erasure?

Everett: First, I owe nothing to reality. But, of course, for any novel to work, in spite of my disregard — maybe even my disdain for facts — truth is important. If it’s not true, you can’t stay with it. You won’t believe it. And there is no work. But truth has nothing to do with reality or facts.

Correspondent: But you do have names to draw from. Not just in this book, but also in your previous books. Thomas Jefferson, Strom Thurmond. You’re a guy who likes real names like this. And so, as such, I have to ask. Is it just a constant influx of information from newspapers that is your creative muse? Where do you stop from reality and start with the inventive process? Or the misunderstandings we’re talking about?

Everett: Well, it depends on the work. But I read all the time. So it just depends on what comes to me. Some figures just present themselves as too alluring to ignore. How could I go through my life and not at some point address Strom Thurmond? (laughs)

Correspondent: Yeah. Sure. But it can’t just be a simple impulse. Because obviously…

Everett: Why not?

Correspondent: Because I’m thinking when you set out to write a novel — and I’m not you obviously — but when you set out to find a concept or put your finger on something, is it a matter of instinctively knowing that that’s something to riff on or something to expand further? Or do you have any plan like this?

Everett: Sometimes I don’t have a plan. Sometimes it’s hit or miss. Trial or error. Feast or famine. All of those duals. I don’t know. For me, the way novels come together is magic. And I only question it so much.

Correspondent: Magic. Magic through pure work? You’re a prolific guy.

Everett: Yeah, I suppose. Yeah. It won’t get done unless I do it. So I try to do it. And I don’t stress.

Correspondent: You don’t stress? Never stressed at all?

Everett: I try not to be. There’s no reason to get upset about anything. Especially work. And then it happens. And the more it happens, the less stressed I become.

Categories: Fiction

Hal Niedzviecki II (BSS #294)

Hal Niedzviecki is most recently the author of The Peep Diaries. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #47.



[PROGRAM NOTE: At the 24:03 mark, a woman with a laptop demanded that Our Correspondent talk with less vivacity, suggesting that Our Correspondent was talking in a “disturbing” manner. Never mind that people sitting closer to us did not complain and that someone even approached Mr. Niedzviecki after the interview, wishing to know what the book was all about. Never mind that, prior to Mr. Niedzviecki’s arrival at the cafe, Our Correspondent observed said woman needlessly chewing out a happy couple for daring to laugh at a joke. However, in the woman’s defense, it is true that Our Correspondent did become quite excited when talking with Mr. Niedzviecki and perhaps raised his voice just a smidgen and perhaps should be pilloried in some form for daring to express considerable enthusiasm about Niedzviecki’s book. We are very well aware that, due to the present economy, enthusiasm has worked against us when trying to persuade various editors to hire us. And if this strange prohibition keeps up like this, there won’t be any enthusiastic people left working in media. (Indeed, there are some telling signs that the enthusiastic who are gainfully employed are beginning to lose their enthusiasm, and this saddens us.) But we note this incident in the event that listeners are confused as to why Our Correspondent and Mr. Niedzviecki began to talk quieter during the latter half of this program.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Considering a few definitions of reality.

Author: Hal Niedzviecki

Subjects Discussed: Comparing the collection of online personal data and real-life personal data, data mining and job recruiting, the ostensible dangers of providing too much information, Twitter, being cognizant of the personal, gossip and humiliation, the humiliation of the Star Wars kid vs. pillorying the adulterer in the town square, whether or not a cultural shift is an epidemic, whether reality TV show audiences are a good metric to make a generalization about America, Heather Armstrong, the evolution of gossip and its intertwining with social rules, gossip as a form of entertainment, forgetting the Dot Com Guy, Star Wars kid remixes, whether or not Our Correspondent can emphasize with Hal Niedzviecki, whether a real person glimpsed online is merely “a character,” judging the integrity of a note of sympathy, the ephemeral nature of Facebook, Hal’s unsuccessful Facebook party, genuine intentions and genuine networks, levels of social connection, tracking a spouse using a GPS device, daycare webcams, a review that Hal partially preserved on his site Broken Pencil, private investigators, subjective viewpoints and “invasion of privacy,” wikis and peer review, the capacity for people to uphold virtue, Sturgeon’s law, and Our Correspondent’s optimism vs. Hal’s pessimism.


Correspondent: But you’re assuming that the vulnerability is there because you are inadvertently transmitting information. What if you are cognizant of every single thing that you write? Every single tweet that you post? I mean, I don’t think you quite understood Twitter. I certainly don’t use Twitter in the way that you literally use it — in terms of answering the question, “What are you doing?” A lot of people use Twitter in different ways. I use it to exchange links and to brainstorm with other writers and other thinkers. “Oh, well that’s an interesting thought that you had on this!” And it’s a very valuable tool. In fact, I would say that Twitter is probably responsible for fifty 1,000-word pieces I’ve written in the last year. Or something like that. So I’m saying that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’re assuming that everything you’re putting out there is personal. But if you’re careful about the personal, if you’re cognizant about the personal, this shouldn’t even be a problem.

Niedzviecki: Oh sure. Absolutely. That’s all well and good if you aren’t putting personal information online. The fact is that millions of people every day are putting personal information online. And that’s probably the #1 primary use of the Internet right now. So okay, your experience is slightly different.

Correspondent: But you’re saying that personal information is…

Niedzviecki: But that’s not really relevant to the question.

Correspondent: I think it is relevant. Is it perhaps a scenario in which you may be, or any of us may be, overstating the importance of our own personal information? Perhaps it really doesn’t matter. If I go ahead and type in “I had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch,” I don’t think that it’s a betrayal to the corporate empire. You know what I mean?

Niedzviecki: Well, I mean, it’s all gradations. I mean, again, this is a topic that I’m not even that excited about. I’m not incredibly hot under the collar. This is just one aspect of the whole phenomena of peep culture. Which is what I call being peeped by the other. We’re peeping ourselves. You know, we should just back up to the whole beginning of this thing, really. Can we do that?

Correspondent: Yeah.

Niedzviecki: Can we back up to this topic? Let’s do that.

Correspondent: Certainly. But if we want to go to the beginning, I mean, it’s not necessarily contingent on the Internet. People were exchanging information and humiliating before the Internet. As you even point out in the book, there was this notion of gossip. There was this notion of spreading rumors about people. We can even talk about the humiliation videos that you mention in this book. Like, for example, the Star Wars kid. Well, is it worse to have the so-called humiliation through a video as opposed to having somebody pilloried in the town square? “Hey, you’re an adulterer and you’re terrible!” And having people throw tomatoes at them? That, to me, seems worse. If you have to go ahead and do it, you may as well go ahead and do it in the form of a middleman here with the Internet.

Niedzviecki: Well, the Star Wars kid’s choice was not being put in stocks in the town square or being forced to wear the dunce cap around the village versus Internet humiliation. It’s not like there was a choice he had to make, right? He never had a choice one way or the other. The basic premise of the book is that pop culture is shifting to peep culture, and that peep culture is the process by which we garner entertainment through watching other people’s vibes. So in pop culture, we watch celebrities and professional entertainers. And now we have peep culture, where we kind of scroll through other people’s lives in the same way we would scroll through TV shows.

Correspondent: Everybody?

Niedzviecki: Not everybody. But a large majority of people. And we’re moving in, you know.

Correspondent: Well, a large majority. Are we talking 51% or 90%?

Niedzviecki: You know, I couldn’t tell you the exact percentage of people.

Correspondent: I think it’s important to have the exact percentage.

Niedzviecki: Well….

Correspondent: Just to get a sense of how much of an epidemic this is.

Niedzviecki: Uh, I’m not an alarmist. I’m not calling it an epidemic. It’s a cultural shift. What we’re doing is — okay, we want numbers. Then, we’ve got to look at reality television. That’s obviously a big part of this, let’s say. We know that ten million people watched the debut — the series debut — of Jon & Kate Plus 8 recently. Previous to that, there was a record five straight Us Weekly covers featuring their eight kids and their marital problems. Okay, that’s ten million people right there. You’ve got in America — you have another ten million people on Facebook. You’ve got your Twitter users. I don’t know how many of those there are. Of course, these categories naturally overlap. You’ve got your Flickr, your Twitter, your YouTube, your Google. I would say that that it’s hard to imagine too many people whose lives aren’t touched in some way by this move to peep culture. The number of people who are actively posting stuff online about their lives and that material is then being used by others for their amusement. It would be hard to give a precise number, but it is certainly — I’d have to say we’re looking at least half the American population who is involved in this.

Correspondent: Half the American population? ‘Cause you said ten million. And the American population is actually 300 million. So that is actually one…

Niedzviecki: I never said ten million.

Correspondent: You said ten million, for example, for this reality TV show.

Niedzviecki: I said ten million people watch that particular show.

Correspondent: Yeah. Ten million. 300 million people. What about the 290 million other people who…

Niedzviecki: But that’s just one show. Then there’s Facebook and Twitter and Google and blogging and every other thing I could think about.

Correspondent: We’re not even in double digits here percentage-wise.

Categories: Ideas

Laila Lalami II (BSS #291)

Laila Lalami is most recently the author of Secret Son. She previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #11.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unpersuaded by fictive convictions.

Author: Laila Lalami

Subjects Discussed: Interviewing enthusiasm, similarities between Secret Son and Richard Wright’s Native Son, Invisible Man, the original title of The Outsider, Ayelet Waldman’s similar title, the maximum number of story and title configurations, the Brooklyn titular fiasco, depicting scenes from multiple perspectives, character restrictions, masculinity and swagger, fiction and personal experience, blogging and silly distinctions, not having time to pay attention to the publishing industry, violence and representative characters from the slums, subverting terrorist expectations in fiction, brown falcons with twigs in their beaks, symbolism vs. emotional and psychological signs, not having a sense of home, censorship in Morocco, the Western Sahara Separatist Movement, TelQuel, questionable freelancing circumstances portrayed in Secret Son, questioning acts of generosity in the novel, inconsistent character qualities and financial transactions, Chekhov’s gun, personal experiences with paperweights, the problems with making things up, Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers, being more comfortable with the least strange aspect of invention, government bailouts, legalized pot, and truth vs. believability.


Correspondent: Do you view Youssef stealing the paperweight as a financial transaction?

Lalami: Do you know, to this day, I have no idea why he does that?

Correspondent: Really?

Lalami: Yeah, I was just in the middle of the scene. And before I knew it, he was walking down the elevator with it. And it just…I don’t know.

Correspondent: I kept thinking it was like Biff from Death of a Salesman or something.

Lalami: Oh my god. (laughs)

Correspondent: But instead of the fountain pen, it was a paperweight. I don’t know.

Lalami: Very clever. No, no. I wasn’t thinking of that. You know, to this day, I don’t know why he does that. I mean, I think — I don’t know. And the fact that it turns up later on in the book, that again. I mean, literally, two lines before it happened, I didn’t know it was going to be on that desk.

Correspondent: Maybe you needed Chekhov’s gun.

Lalami: (laughs)

Correspondent: Maybe that’s what this is all about.

Lalami: Yes, maybe.

Correspondent: I mean, intuitively, when you introduce a character or an element or an object along these lines, to what degree is your subconscious saying, “Hey, I’ve got to go ahead and put things in here that I can follow up later, and resolve, and wrap things up.”

Lalami: Honestly, yes. Honestly, it really did happen at the level of the subconscious. And I couldn’t tell you why he steals it. Or why? I mean, it seemed fitting to me that the friend would convince him to sell it. I mean, that was just something that fit with the character. But why it would then turn up on Hateem’s desk, I don’t know. You know, honestly, it just seemed to be intuitive. I was just following my intuition with that. Maybe there is a larger symbolic subconscious meaning to it.

Correspondent: Or maybe you had a really painful, cathartic, and emotional experience with a paperweight.

Lalami: No.

Correspondent: That you’re just not going to share.

Lalami: (laughs) Then the story would be a lot more interesting.

Categories: Fiction

2008 National Book Awards (BSS #252)

So far as we know, the National Book Awards has not authored anything aside from programs and informational pamphlets. The people that Our Young, Roving Correspondent talked with on that fateful night, however, have authored a few books. Or at least, this is what they have told us.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Deeply suspicious of Harold Augenbraum.

Authors: Joan Wickersham, Annette Gordon-Reed, Salvatore Scibona, Mark Doty, Candace Bushnell, and Richard Howard.

Subjects Discussed: The difficulties of writing a memoir in straight chronological order, the paradox of suicide, having a handrail to guide you through the writing of a book, the Hemmings family, endnotes, the perils of plunging into research, working on a book for nine years, narrative arcs, attempts by finalists to describe a book in 100 words, planning a book for ten years, writing and throwing things away, typewriters and distractions, mixing up Cs and Ds, the difficulties of selecting poetry for a volume, wrestling with Walt Whitman, why Candace Bushnell reads what she reads, attempting to get an answer on how one exudes glamor at the National Book Awards, and how long it takes Richard Howard to write a poem.


Correspondent: How are you wrestling with Whitman exactly?

Doty: Well, I want to think about the common ground that I share with Whitman. A real interest in the relationship between the individual — the single self — to the community. Whitman is always trying to figure out where the margins of himself are, and often he feels like he doesn’t have any. That’s been an obsession of mine too. He’s a person who was so interested in affirming the body, and the pleasures of sex and of physical life. And at the same time, he was a person who was absolutely obsessed with mortality and the end of physical life. So those are all things that matter to me. And I love the way that he really thought his poems could change the world.

* * *

Correspondent: And you’re here for the National Book Awards specifically in what capacity? To exude glamor or what?

Bushnell: To celebrate books. This is the business that I’m in. Publishing. I’ve written five novels. And this is about publishing. So it’s always a treat for writers to come out and see other writers.

Categories: Fiction

Christian Bauman (BSS #215)

Christian Bauman is most recently the author of In Hoboken.


Condition of the Show: Contending with contentious Midtown diners.

Author: Christian Bauman

Subjects Discussed: Defining a rock and roll novel, writing an ensemble novel with Hoboken as a character, references to paper storms and 9/11, chronological foreshadowing, using real-life Hoboken locations vs. invented locations, the Hoboken-New York rivalry, playing the rube vs. genuine sincerity as a reflection of irony in the 1990s, balancing real-life incidents and invented narrative, the benefits of vaguely knowing someone, whether or not a particular city is important to a narrative, writing about the worker hierarchy, writing about characters who live cheaply, socioeconomics in literature, locative contexts that make novels different, trying not to anticipate the next novel, songwriting phrases, reconfiguring essays and other pieces into a novel, and the modified omniscient voice.


Correspondent: You have this particular rock ‘n’ roll novel dwelling upon Hoboken, as well as Mona Smith, who is this Erica Jong-like figure, who is the mother of Thatcher. But I wanted to ask you about this. Because it’s very fascinating to me. I have the belief that if you write a rock ‘n’ roll novel, there needs to be some additional element. Some additional hook. Because if you dwell too much on rock ‘n’ roll music, well, it’s going to possibly be something of a circlejerk. So I wanted to ask you. Was this a consideration in setting this book in Hoboken? The Hoboken aspect came first? What happened here?

Bauman: Yeah, I think the Hoboken aspect came first. Well, first of all, I should point out that everyone keeps calling it a rock ‘n’ roll novel. It is actually a folk novel. So we should just be clear here. There’s a lot more Woody Guthrie here than anything else. But it’s a good point. You know, the whole thing I wanted to do, in as far as I wanted to anything and it didn’t just happen the way it happened — I was trying very hard this time to do two things. One was to write about a place. A very specific place to the point where the place became one of the characters in the book. And of those places where I’ve either lived or been alive in my life, Hoboken was one of them that stood out as a good place to go. And the other one was that I really wanted to try and write an ensemble novel to the best of my ability. And I kind of failed in that aspect.

Categories: Fiction

Ed Park (BSS #211)

Ed Park is most recently the author of Personal Days.


Condition of the Show: Plagued by brutal downsizing.

Author: Ed Park

Subjects Discussed: Literary people named Ed, writing Personal Days and using vacation days while employed at the Voice, counting words written per day, B.S. Johnson, Jonathan Coe’s Like a Fiery Elephant, Harry Stephen Keeler, staying productive as a writer, the other Ed Park novels (The Dizzies, Chinese Whispers, The Diet of Worms, Dementia Americana, et al.), Stone Reader, lost books, writing within tight stylistic constraints, the section titles, “restructuring,” references to Hollywood and the quest for narrative, figuring out “Operation JASON,” waiting for the Eureka moment, making patterns emerge, patterns within character names and working within limitations, the use of italics, writing the third part without a period, having an affinity for exclamation points, Lester Bangs’s Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Elizabeth Crane’s “My Life is Awesome! And Great!,” the office as a microcosm for New York, William Gaddis, Harry Matthews, Cigarettes and The Journalist, the relationship between the ability to calculate vs. the loss of the first person plural, consciousness in attrition, Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, The Office, avoiding the influence of other topical art, Crease in Personal Days vs. Creed in The Office, style vs. content, specific typographical symbols, voice recognition and gobbledygook, William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and Gaddis’s The Recognitions, office detritus, paperclips that pierce, setting limitations when veering down dark and scatological territory, and the pathological corporate impulse.


Park: It’s such a pleasure to talk to someone who’s also named Ed.

Correspondent: Yes, I know. I mean, it’s a hell of a first name. There needs to be a Society of Eds set up in the five boroughs.

Park: It’s pretty rare.

Correspondent: I know. I wanted to ask you a commonplace question and then get to the nitty-gritty of this book. I know that you wrote a good chunk of this book while you were working at the Voice. But the sense I got was that you didn’t write all of it at the Voice. So I’m curious as to how much of this was written in a Voice-less setting, so to speak.

Park: Well, if you mean by “at the Voice,” while I was still employed by them, that’s true. Most of it was written before I left the Voice. I was let go at, basically, Labor Day. Right before Labor Day Weekend of ’06. But by that time, I did actually have a draft. There were many changes that I knew were necessary. I wrote it though. In terms of physical space, I could never even write my articles at the Voice. Just in the Voice office. I was hired as an editor. Basically editing, sending emails, on the phone, stuff like that. So it wasn’t really a place where, ironically enough, I could get a lot of writing done. So all the writing took place in my apartment. I was living on 89th Street. A lot of it was the same as I’d done for my previous fictional projects, where I would just try to write in the morning before coming into work. What was a little bit different about this book was that, as things got more tense at the Voice, as things really looked like they were going in a bad way, I took some vacation days, personal days, and would really treat the book as my job in a way.

Categories: Fiction

Marshall Klimasewiski II (BSS #193)

Marshall Klimasewiski is most recently the author of Tyrants. This conversation was conducted in front of an audience at McNally Robinson on February 28, 2008. Many thanks to Jessica Stockton Bagnulo for arranging this!



Condition of Mr. Segundo: At loggerheads with his master.

Author: Marshall Klimasewiski

Subjects Discussed: Ballooning as a “fight or flight” impulse, focusing upon characters who live rudderless existences, Klimasewski’s hair motif, writing a first-person perspective from a woman, writing stories without knowing what you’re talking about, being a literary prevaricator, landscape and Brutalist architecture, the emergence of technology, fascism, Stalinism and other ideologies, tree and wood metaphors, women who have muscular forearms rowing for crew teams and fond of wearing sleeveless jerseys, the recurring character of Henry, the pragmatic nature of marriage, pursuing taboos of how you express your affection, writing more in rural areas, and literary references.


Correspondent: But all of your characters — in many of these stories, they live rudderless existences. In fact, there’s one thing I wanted to ask you about, as a balding man myself, they tend to have thinning hair.

Audience: (laughs)

Correspondent: And so I have to ask you. In fact, there’s a lot of hair motifs throughout this. You describe the rustles of Stalin’s moustache. You at one point have a piano player whose grey-bearded head pops out of nowhere. So there’s this sense of hair as a motif of wisdom and possibly folly. And in fact, there’s a character who seems vaguely reminiscent of you who has red hair, who I must ask you about, who forms the basis of two stories. So what’s with the hair? How’s your hair doing these days?

Audience: (laughs)

Klimasewiski: I must admit this is news to me. I hadn’t realized I was writing so much about hair. Although recently, the last story in the collection, “Aeronauts,” is also about a polar expedition a little bit earlier. It’s set in the 1890s. And if I could have published that story in any way possible, I would have published it with some photos from the expedition. And recently, last week, I did a reading in St. Louis, where I live. It’s a story with multiple voices. It’s kind of a collage narrative. And with the help of a couple of friends reading different parts, we put it together. But we also used a slideshow of some of these photos. And that was the first time that I was realizing that absolutely everybody in the slideshow had a great deal of hair on their faces and very little on their head.

Correspondent: Aha! The truth comes out.

(To listen to our previous conversation with Marshall Klimasewiski, go here.)

Categories: Fiction

Steve Erickson (BSS #180)

Steve Erickson is most recently the author of Zeroville. He returned to the program for a second conversation with The Bat Segundo Show #447.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Confused by floating point integers.

Author: Steve Erickson

Subjects Discussed: Approaching a novel with fewer fantastical elements, following the narrative laws of movies, Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Walter Murch and Michael Ondaatje’s The Conversations, catchphrases from movies that enter into the vernacular, “God, I love this movie,” John Cassavettes, Chauncey Gardener, Vikar “speaking more than four words for the first time,” criticism and annotations as the contextual panacea to Los Angeles, Vikar as the anti-critic, John Milius, the model church and architecture, ambiguity, reenactments, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, on not tying up loose ends, the burglar, blaxpolitation, Hollywood incongruities, Vikar’s tattoo, flesh as a marker, social flotsam, flamboyant press conferences, the parabolic chapter structure of Zeroville, Chuck Palahniuk, single frames of film, symbols with multiple interpretations, pronounced purity, continuity, anti-context, other settings representative of the pervasive nature of Hollywood, and repetitive sentences as a narrative guide.


Correspondent: I wanted to ask you about approaching this particular book with less fantastical or abstract elements than your previous books. I’m wondering if it was a way for you to live up to Godard’s maxim — that cinema is essentially truth 24 frames per second.

Erickson: Well, I think that, in the case of this book, because it is a book about the movies, and because I wanted the book to reflect my enthusiasm for the movies, and to reflect to some extent the obsession of the main character for the movies, I wanted to follow the narrative laws of the movies. So I kept it in the present tense. This is a pretty linear book compared to my other books. And it cuts from short scene to short scene, and it never gets too internalized. Things are told in the externals of dialogue and action. So because of all of that, I think it had the effect of grounding the book in a way that the other books may not have felt as grounded. And also, it was fixed in a very particular period of time, which is to say the 1970s in Los Angeles, when a lot of things about movies were changing.

Categories: Fiction