The Bat Segundo Show: Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #323. Mr. Taylor is most recently the author of Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever.

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

Guest: Justin Taylor

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


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

Taylor: (laughs)

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

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

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

Correspondent: Not one satisfactory haircut in your life?

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

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

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

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

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

The Bat Segundo Show #323: Justin Taylor (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Kevin Sampsell

Kevin Sampsell recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #322. Mr. Sampsell is most recently the author of A Common Pornography.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Airing his dirty laundry.

Guest: Kevin Sampsell

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


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

Sampsell: (laughs)

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

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

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

Sampsell: Maybe.

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

Sampsell: Yeah.

Correspondent: That’s pretty judgmental, man.

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

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

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

Correspondent: Aha! There is commentary, I see.

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

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

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

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

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

The Bat Segundo Show #322: Kevin Sampsell (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #320. Grafton is most recently the author of U is for Undertow.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Looking for a man named Snake to help him escape from Santa Teresa.

Author: Sue Grafton

Subjects Discussed: Kinsey Millhone’s early announcement to the readers regarding the bad guys, foreshadowing murder, not writing the same book twice, the ethics of investigation, the emotions associated with kidnapped children, Jaycee Dugard, Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan, gray areas of moral conduct, the difficulties reconciling real crime and fictional crime, the horror of people killing each other over a pair of tennis shoes, Grafton’s comfort level, working from an arsenal of journals, juggling voices and large character canvases, the writer’s fantasy of having the luxury of time, the solace of observing creative struggle in past books, being influenced by the complaints of a single reader, the motivation behind creating a mystery writer character, Howard Unruh and Grafton’s “Unruh,” why Grafton wishes to take the alphabet series to Z, Grafton’s reluctance to embrace Hollywood and Grafton’s early career as a screenwriter, Nabokov’s The Original of Laura, and Grafton’s relationship with readers and the mystery community.


Grafton: I don’t like to repel readers. I mean, we’re always dealing with homicide and violence of this sort, which is difficult enough. I don’t want to rub that in my reader’s face.

Correspondent: So it’s like, on the one hand, with this crime, you wanted to keep it off stage so that the gory details didn’t come front and center.

Grafton: Right.

Correspondent: But in other instances, like what we just talked about, you like to foreshadow and give the reader a taste of what’s going on. Do you feel these are contradictory impulses?

Grafton: I don’t know. If they are contradictory, I hope it’s an interesting contradiction. In some ways, in the reports you get about the crime itself from another child who is involved, by hook or by crook, nothing evil happens. And I hope I’ve gained a little sense. This is a story about people who make mistakes, people who use poor judgment. It is not the act of wicked evil men. These are kids who do something stupid and it backfires.

Correspondent: But in a way, at least when I was reading you, it almost struck me as being more horrible — not to get into Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil, but that’s essentially what you set up here. These people are sucked into the situation by virtue of their own stupidity. Their drug use, who they hang out with. And it almost feels — have you read A Simple Plan by Scott Smith?

Grafton: No.

Correspondent: It was made into a movie with Billy Bob Thornton and the like. But it’s a similar thing, where you start off with one guy and he does one act, and then another action. And you suddenly realize you’re drawn into a world as he’s doing really horrible things. And there’s a justification for everything. And I really did find that you did establish that there’s a weird little justification for how things developed. And even though these are horrible crimes, there’s some underlying motivation. This goes back to structure and the like. What did you know about you prior to setting it all down? And I do want to get into the writing process a bit. But what did you know first off?

Grafton: Well, part of what I feel I’m doing here is — and some of this I discover after the fact. I think of this as the anatomy of a crime. This is that strange subterranean accumulation of events that results in a crime. And I thought it was interesting to look at it from that perspective. One thing I’m fascinated by, at this pace in my career, is gray areas. Black and white and evil, while repellent, are not as representative of the public at large. Many people, I think, cross the line. That’s always a question to me. What makes people cross the line? Most people are law-abiding, good-natured, and yet circumstances. You know, I think many criminals are not evil people. They’re not pathologically twisted. Many ordinary folk somehow wander from the straight and narrow. And those kinds of deviations, and those kinds of crimes, are interesting to me. Because they’re a little closer to the norm. They are still outside what I consider acceptable behavior. But it’s not as cut and dried as many types of crime might be.

The Bat Segundo Show #320 (Download MP3)

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The Return of Bat Segundo

After spending several weeks away from Bat Segundo, I’m happy to announce that I’ve figured out a way to carry on doing the podcast without going insane. There will be five more podcasts released in 2009, with the first new show released on November 20, 2009. This quintet represents three conversations I’ve been sitting on — one of which may prove to be one of the most controversial episodes in the show’s history — and two new interviews which I have scheduled. (Indeed, I actually broke my hiatus for one of them.)

Then, starting on January 8, 2010, I will be shifting to a weekly format, where I will release a new Segundo installment every Friday. The first installment will be a “Best of Segundo” special, featuring some of the conversational highlights throughout the show’s four year history. (Several friends and listeners have been asking for a “clips show” for a while. And I feel this will be a good way to break back into the format. And for those who believe this to be a “repeat,” I assure you that Mr. Segundo and his associates will provide new context for the collected madness.)

I’ve decided to cut down to one show a week for several reasons. I felt that Bat Segundo was taking up too much of my time and that the burden I had placed (thank you, work ethic!) was getting in the way of maintaining the ebullient nature of this program. As I’ve said all along, if it’s not fun for me, then chances are it won’t be fun for listeners. And the last thing I want to do is serve up boilerplate radio. But I’ve returned to a point where the show is fun again. And the weekly pace should permit me to carry on with clean hands and composure, while simultaneously tending to such pedantic needs as scrambling for work in this dour economy. There are also a number of long-standing projects that I’ve had going on for some time. But Bat Segundo was getting in the way. But the hiatus has permitted me to restructure my life around these projects, making Bat Segundo more of a secondary project that I can happily carry on with.

There’s also the simple fact that, with the previous pace, very few people, save the hard-core listeners, were able to keep up with all the shows. I feel that this was a great disservice to the many authors, filmmakers, and cultural figures who have kindly offered their time to the program. The weekly format will also permit me to be more selective, although I will remain just as committed to including small presses and independent filmmakers as I have in the past.

So that’s the new mandate. It is subject to change at any given moment. I assure you that Bat Segundo will return very soon to wreak havoc, goofiness, and insight.

The Bat Segundo Show: Laurie Sandell

Laurie Sandell recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #306.

Laurie Sandell is the author of The Impostor’s Daughter.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering if the coalminer was an impostor.

Author: Laurie Sandell

Subjects Discussed: Chicken recipes, the quest for truth within memoir, how narrative shapes and stretches truth, subjective vs. objective accounts, the essay written anonymously for Esquire, memory vs. concrete evidence, emails from Ashley Judd, how hard evidence enhances a visual diagram, lawyers sifting through evidence, the use of clothing against background, working with a colorist, becoming one’s parents, the use of motion lines, adopting comic book semiotics, drawing from an intuitive part of the brain, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, feeling liberated in comic form vs. restrictions in textual form, maintaining privacy vs. spilling all details to the public, diagramming environment, knowing the lay of the land, static panels, consulting graphic novels, Scott McCloud, arrows pointing to figures, strange stays in five-star hotels, sketching out the book before drawing, taking the story arc from the text version of The Impostor’s Daughter, structure and spontaneity, maintaining momentum vs. contending with painful memories, emotional change and artistic change, whether or not writing is the proper way to exorcise demons, the story of Sandell’s father as a former sense of identity, the ethical dilemmas of narrative seduction, and fearlessness.


lauriesandellCorrespondent: I should point out I’m not trying to insist that stretching [the truth] is necessarily a bad thing. I’m merely pointing out that memory, as we all know, is a fallacious instrument.

Sandell: Yes, it is.

Correspondent: It’s been said that memory is the greatest liar of them all. It’s been said — by, I believe Lincoln — that you have to have a great memory to be a great liar.

Sandell: Right.

Correspondent: So given this conundrum, I’m wondering to what degree you relied on your own memory and to what degree you relied on reference shots. You have, for example, illustrations that crop up within the course of the book. This leads me to wonder about other specific details. But maybe we can start on memory vs. concrete evidence.

Sandell: Well, you know, it was a mix of memory and concrete evidence. On the one hand, I had a lot of concrete evidence because I had interviewed my father over a period of two years and I tape recorded our conversations with his knowledge. This was leading up to the Esquire piece when I had a 300-page transcript. So most of the things that my father said in the book came directly from those transcripts. So he’s telling stories from his past. Those came directly from my father’s mouth.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Sandell: As far as — I’m trying to think. I don’t know. What else?

Correspondent: Well, I could actually cite specific examples.

Sandell: Okay, sure.

Correspondent: For example, the difference between the narration and what is actually spoken in the text bubbles.

Sandell: Right.

Correspondent: Here’s one example. When you’re working at the office, you have a text box point to the screen: “Have you considered inpatient treatment.” We don’t actually see the email on the screen.

Sandell: Okay.

Correspondent: We actually see your particular perspective.

Sandell: Right.

Correspondent: And so I want to ask you about why that particular emphasis — I mean, that’s inherently subjective. We’re counting on your subjective viewpoint as to what is on the screen. As opposed to later on, when we actually see what’s on your screen, when you’re on your laptop in your motel room.

Sandell: I need to be honest. The reason you didn’t see that screen was probably because it didn’t fit in that box.

Correspondent: Okay.

Sandell: And so I had to deal with little callouts so you could actually see what was on the screen. But the interesting thing about the process of putting together all this evidence — a lot of it really was evidence — is that there were so many emails. For example, that email was an email, I believe, from Ashley Judd.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Sandell: And I have those emails from Ashley Judd. I have the emails from my father. You know, I worked with a private investigator for two years. So I have all of his information and the lawsuits he compiled and all the various evidence and things written by my father. You know, I think — did you ever read Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy?

Correspondent: No, I never read that.

Sandell: It’s a beautiful memoir. Ann Patchett later went on to write Truth & Beauty: A Friendship.

Correspondent: That’s right.

Sandell: And one of the things that Ann Patchett said in her afterword — after Lucy died, Ann Patchett wrote an afterword to the book — and she described how, at a reading, someone said to Lucy Grealy, “How did you remember all those details about your past?” And she said, “I didn’t remember it. I wrote it.” And people were a little bit up in arms about that. But she was pointing out the fact that this was a piece of art, it’s a piece of subjective memory, and the most important thing is to show the emotional truth of the situation. And I would say that in my case, because I have so much evidence, and evidence that Little Brown asked to say and anytime I’ve done television, they’ve actually asked to see the evidence, I feel pretty comfortable that there’s not going to be any big explosive James Frey situation.

Correspondent: Well, to what degree were they asking for the evidence? Because we’re talking about transcripts. We’re talking about investigative reporting. This is all text right now. And here you are. You have a visual document here.

Sandell: Yes.

Correspondent: You have to construct something from the text here. So it’s a wonder that evidence even means anything if it’s a visual result.

Sandell: I think it does. I mean, the visual result is obviously my memory. It’s the way I remember the situation.

(Image: Brantastic)

BSS #306: Laurie Sandell (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #305.

Dick Cavett’s column, “Talk Show,” regularly appears at the New York Times.


(PROGRAM NOTE: During the course of our conversation, a “Professor Robert Castelli from John Jay College” — who apparently has a background in law enforcement — pushed in Mr. Cavett’s chair, causing Mr. Cavett to accost him. This unusual social moment, which was resolved with bonhomie, can be experienced at the 38:04 mark.)

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Examining his birth certificate for potential Nebraskan roots.

Guest: Dick Cavett

Subjects Discussed: Books that Cavett may or may not have authored, jobs that Cavett has worked, being a professional magician as a teenager, Cavett’s brief career as a caddy, humorless Germans, James Ellroy, starting the Caddies Hall of Fame, Groucho Marx’s golf ball-enhanced hat, stalking Jack Paar in the bathroom, the dreadful cliche “It’s who you know, not what you know,” being drawn to living with showbiz people, Paul Douglas, meeting Groucho at George S. Kaufman’s funeral, Studs Terkel, being born with the showbiz urge, fame vs. ideas, whether or not showbiz people are “real” people, Nixon’s blue-suit adventures in Montauk, separating the real Cavett from the telegenic Cavett, Johnny Carson’s failure to remember his guest lineup that night, learning how to listen over the years, real listening vs. telegenic listening, Jimmy Fallon, on not relying on a catalog of quips, overpreparing for an interview, advice Cavett picked up from Jack Paar, the icky word “share,” Werner Erhard and est, “oversharing,” Twitter, on not getting Mike Nichols on the show, interviews vs. conversations, when Cavett had to telephone potential guests to get them on the show, Frank Sinatra, Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” secretly taping a telephone conversation with Marlon Brando, phrases that Brando used, Cary Grant, having to contend with armies of publicists, the worthlessness of many present talk show appearances, talent coordinators, allegations from 1960s Toronto journalists that Cavett was “attractively functional,” the bright orange shag rug on the ABC set, being bombarded by constant information and subwindows on television, TV as GUI, why Cavett didn’t renew his six-year contract at CNBC, the mispronunciation of “nuclear,” David Frost, the problems with occupying vacant rooms, Peter Ustinov, claims from executives that people won’t sit still for a long-form interview, the relationship between William Peter Blatty’s appearance and the success of The Exorcist, the number of panties that Cavett has received over the years, resistance from ABC, the infamous Norman Mailer-Gore Vidal show, the Mailer-Torn brawl, Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots, the Lillian Hellman/Mary McCarthy feud, making sure that writers could talk on television, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart as “the most trusted newsman in America.”


cavettCorrespondent: I’m curious about this period of you coming to New York. Coming into town. You’re on the prowl trying to get work as an actor. Before you eventually become a copy boy for Time Magazine.

Cavett: That’s right. I finally made it. (laughs)

Correspondent: I should point out that your efforts to befriend numerous showbiz figures here in New York would in some cases, by today’s standards, be considered stalking. You know, Jack Paar in the bathroom and all that.

Cavett: Yeah.

Correspondent: I’m curious. Were you drawn by the notion of “It’s who you know rather than what you know” — or what was the impetus for this?

Cavett: I had heard that dreadful cliche, usually used in the same conversation as “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” and “Some of my best friends are Jews.” In fact, two friends of mine used all three one evening and hit the jackpot. But anyway to get to your question.

Correspondent: Wow. And they’re still your friends?

Cavett: They’re both dead. So I don’t see them that often.

Correspondent: Using the phrase has killed them, I presume.

Cavett: It mighta. If cliches could kill.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Cavett: But what was the one we were working on?

Correspondent: Oh, we were kinda talking about who you know.

Cavett: Oh, who you know. Nobody ever says, “It’s whom you know.”

Correspondent: No, they don’t.

Cavett: Even though my father was an English teacher, I never did. And I was just drawn to famous successful showbiz people and wanted to live among them.

Correspondent: Really.

Cavett: Be one of them. And that took me to accost — on my first day in New York — Dave Garroway, who was out in front of the Today Show window. And speaking of making it around as an actor, one day, the great Paul Douglas — film actor for those of us older than 30 — was standing next to me waiting for a light to change waiting on Madison Avenue. And I said, “Mr. Douglas, where would you go to look for work today as an actor?” And he said, “I couldn’t answer,” and walked on. (laughs) He wasn’t impolite.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Cavett: He told the truth.

Correspondent: He probably had to get to an appointment. I’m sure it wasn’t anything personal.

Cavett: I still love him in the movies.

Correspondent: But you managed to coax Groucho into buying you lunch. And I’m curious if it was a scenario involving charisma or blackmail. I mean, what happened here? What did you attribute your ability to get on with so many people? So many bigwigs here? Or did you stalk them all like Jack Paar?

Cavett: Well, I’ve never given that much thought. I don’t know what it is. Something in me appealed to him apparently enough. I met him at George S. Kaufman’s funeral — or after it on the street. Groucho was starting to come down Fifth Avenue. Puerto Rican Day Parade booming along beside. And I said, “Groucho, I’m a big fan of yours.” Then he said, “Well, if we get any hotter, I can use a big fan.” I should have said “gets any hotter,” which is what he said. Retake. (laughs) And Groucho said, “Well if it gets any hotter, I can use a big fan.” There. That’s right, isn’t it?

Correspondent: Yeah, sure. Sure.

Cavett: Yeah. And the joke still works.

Correspondent: Yeah, it does.

Cavett: Even though it was years and years ago.

Correspondent: Actually, we should have six different attempts at this joke.

Cavett: Yeah.

Correspondent: Just to show the Cavett mind.

Cavett: Well, it shows the Groucho mind in a way. Because I never saw him misspeak a joke or a line. I only saw Hope, who I used to worship and watch and hang around when I was working for Carson/Parr. When we were out in California, I would watch Hope tape his show all the time. Once or twice, he would blow a monologue or a joke, and get a bigger laugh about doing that. As Johnny could.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Cavett: And really any good comic could. But where was I? Oh, Groucho. So we started walking down the street and chatting. Beautiful day. And I remember thinking, “This may be the best day of my life.” And I’m still not sure it was not. When we got all the way down the Plaza, where he was lunching — alone. And on the way down, he insulted every doorman. And then a Puerto Rican man in a bright suit happily enjoying his day saw Groucho and made a great grin. And he said, “Com-e-dy!” (laughs)

Correspondent: Yeah.

Cavett: And Groucho said, “Tell me. Is it true that you were cutting sugar cane only a month ago? You seem to have succeeded with that suit.” Well, anyway, it entertained me and the man. And we got to 59th Street. And he said to me, in the voice from the game show, “Well you seem like a nice young man and I’d like you to have lunch with me.” And I thought, “Am I going to awaken in a moment and find this to be only a dream?”

Correspondent: The question I have is why did showbiz people appeal more than, say, regular people. Like say the doorman, for example. I know that over the course of your show, you had a number of intriguing cultural figures and unusual people that wouldn’t be on other late-night shows. But on the other hand, it does make me curious why culture, in some sense, was the great prism for which you could conduct these many lengthy conversations with these people. Why didn’t you go the Studs Terkel route? I’m curious.

Cavett: How do you see the Studs Terkel route?

Correspondent: Well, he talked with everybody.

Cavett: Talking to?

Correspondent: He talks with writers. He talks with ditchmen.

Cavett: Talk to janitors. Or, in the politically correct age, custodians.

Correspondent: Exactly.

Cavett: (laughs)

Correspondent: I’m old enough that when I went to elementary school, they called them custodians back then.

Cavett: They did even then? Oh.

Correspondent: Yeah, they did. Back in the 70s.

BSS #305: Dick Cavett (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Richard Russo II

Richard Russo recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #301.

Richard Russo is most recently the author of That Old Cape Magic. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #152.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Shoving Cape Cod mackerel down his throat.

Author: Richard Russo

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming, but lots in the latter half of the show about the Newsweek piece and the perceptive problems with close third-person.]


Books RICHARD RUSSOCorrespondent: Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Why “Living on a Prayer” over “You Give Love a Bad Name?”

Russo: (laughs)

Correspondent: Was “Living on a Prayer” the tune that was more applicable to weddings here?

Russo: Ed, Ed, you’re trying to make me feel regret now, aren’t you? Because that would have been perfect as well.

Correspondent: Was it more about living than love? With the emphasis in the book.

Russo: It was the result of my wife and I having gone recently to a number of weddings and being absolutely fascinated by the way young people my daugghters’ age react to the song. Because it is so much before their time. And for a lot of young people — 28, 29, 30 — it is a kind of anthem And the way they not only know the words, they have a kind of routine worked out on the dance floor. Those in the know have this routine on the dance floor that involves the fist-pumping, which they do in unison. Sometimes forty or fifty of them, young people out on the dance floor, to a song that is just so much before their time. But they’ve adopted it. So it was a wonderful way to show a bridge between those generations. And Laura, who does such a kind act in that redeems her father, at least temporarily. It just fit that slot so nicely. It also suggests that when Griffin begins this novel, he’s had a tiff with his wife. But it’s really just a tiff. I mean, he has a kind of tenure in his job. He loves his life. He loves his wife. He loves his daughter. Everything is right. And yet by the end of the first half of this book, he’s living on a prayer. And he knows it. Whereas he didn’t in the beginning.

Correspondent: But it’s interesting. Because your timing is absolutely perfect! Recently, on YouTube, there’s this video that’s been going around, that 18 million people have seen, of this elaborate dance at a wedding all set to music.

Russo: Oh really? I hadn’t seen it.

Correspondent: Well, I know. I don’t think you’re much of an online guy.

Russo: (laughs)

Correspondent: I wanted to talk about the notion of the home in this book. There’s a sentiment that is expressed: “You aren’t a real adult until you have a mortgage you can’t afford.”

Russo: Right.

Correspondent: Griffin is pressured into home ownership. And he and his wife often sift through the real estate catalogs, splitting up properties into Cannot Afford It and Wouldn’t Have It As a Gift.

Russo: Right.

Correspondent: And then also, 13-year-old Sunny Kim says, “You have a lovely home,” later on in the book. Home though is not necessarily where the heart is in this. This is a couple that is united by home as a piece of property, as opposed to a place where one can establish a family. This is a couple that settles on The Great Truro Accord and actually figures that this prearranged stratagem will aid them in deflecting every curveball of life thrown their way. So I wanted to just ask you why the home, of all things — or even just property in general — would be the central place for this couple’s failure to (1) deal with life and (2) come to the real terms that they are their parents and that they share a lot of family qualities. That’s a lot of points. I’ll stop there.

Russo: No, no, that’s — yes, I’m overwhelmed by the question. The other conflict, of course, is that Griffin’s parents, of course, are confirmed renters. So their notion of a home is something which recedes before them. Like the Cape itself. I mean, home for them is a place that you can only visit. And so, for Griffin, home is something that he is really reluctant to go to. Joy loves her parents’ home. She loves the vacation home. The same home that they rent every year. For her, home is a central place, as you said. It is the place where love resides most powerfully. And I think I would also expand that to say that home, like marriage, is not just a private thing. Just as marriage institutionalizes love in some way, home institutionalizes family. So when Sunny Kim — the outsider — comes in and says, “You have a lovely home.” He’s saying, “You have a lovely daughter with whom I’m in love. You have a lovely marriage to which I aspire. You have a lovely home that I would like to live in one day and you have a lovely nation that is now my adopted home.”

So just as your question is big, my answer is kind of big. In the sense that the notion of home, by the time we get to the end of this book — especially that final Sunny Kim scene — that notion of home has gone from something at the beginning — it was two people separating real estate property on a place they can’t afford into those two categories — Can’t Afford It and Wouldn’t Have It As a Gift. And by the time we get to the end of the novel, it’s almost something that you would expect to be taken over at some point by Department of Homeland Security. (laughs)

BSS #301: Richard Russo II (Download MP3)

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New Review: I Am Not Sidney Poitier

In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, you can find my review of Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier. And it’s rather fitting that much of my review ended up as a list of rhetorical (and possibly unanswerable) questions.

everett2As it so happens, just after filing the review and being wowed by the book, I learned that Everett happened to be in New York. And I was able to set up a rare interview with him (which will be airing as the next episode of The Bat Segundo Show, to be released very soon). Everett, who has avoided nearly every form of marketing for his books*, and who declared to me that he had no interest in the business of publishing or catering to an audience, identified his book as a “novel of ideas.” But I Am Not Sidney Poitier is also steeped in an old-fashioned sense of humor. Here’s a brief excerpt from the forthcoming Segundo installment, in which Everett explains the relationship between these two concepts:

Everett: There are no rules. I don’t believe in any rules when it comes to fiction. If I can make you believe it, then it’s fair game. Probably when I’m working, if I can make myself believe it, then it’s fair game. Because I don’t know what you’re going to believe. And it depends on the work. A novel like Not Sidney, where much of it is more a novel of ideas and the narrator is of a certain sort, can make bizarre perceptions or representations of the world and have the one-dimensional county of Peckerwood County. Whereas in other works, that simply wouldn’t work. So the work talks to me. The most important part of the story is the story. And I can’t impose my feelings or my desire to write a certain kind of thing that day on it.

Correspondent: But in identifying Not Sidney as a novel of ideas, I would argue — and this is where we get into needless taxonomy arguments. But I should point out that you are essentially saying, “Well, this is a novel of ideas.” And maybe the story itself will matter on some basic entertainment level.

Everett: Oh no. The story still matters.

Correspondent: Okay. But I’m curious how committed you are to this idea of the “novel of ideas.” If it’s entirely a construct, should we believe in it entirely or should we believe in the ideas?

Everett: Well, if I’ve done it right, you should believe in it entirely. And superimposed upon this is the narrator’s concept of this being a story of ideas. But you can’t have — and this is not a rule, but, for me, I cannot have a novel where the story is secondary to anything. The world has to exist. And so I have to make it. And I have to make it believable. How I do that can vary and come across in any different number of trajectories or strategies or whatever.

* — This may answer, in part, Gregory Leon Miller’s query this weekend on why Everett’s work hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

The Bat Segundo Show: Laila Lalami II

Laila Lalami recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #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.


llalamiCorrespondent: 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.

BSS #291: Laila Lalami (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Arthur Phillips

Arthur Phillips appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #288.

Arthur Phillips is most recently the author of The Song is You.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Reconsidering the playlists and those who play him.

Author: Arthur Phillips

Subjects Discussed: Characters who are enslaved to culture, partisan positions in relation to hoarding facts, being in denial about larger arguments within novels, Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, aesthetic concerns, muses and playing against reader expectations, the myth of an author’s personal connection, listening to headphones, ghosts and Jeopardy experiences gone awry, personal experience and lies within fiction, speculating on the specific conditions in which a man can be a muse, being a male model and a musician, the myth of writing what you know, getting excited about emotion, the distance required to contend with a fictive location, the wall between the personal and the artistic, the magic souffle, predicting 2009 weather in New York, reading time, the danger of boredom, William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, outlines and improvisation, reinventing the wheel, the little changes within a manuscript vs. changing as a writer, the value of urgency, being a metaphorical roofer and upholsterer, Re-Flex’s “The Politics of Dancing,” and the crazy amounts of money one must pay to republish lyrics.


arthurphillipsCorrespondent: If we’re talking about time, there’s also the notion of reader’s time. And as a stylist, you have some control over how frequently or how long or how short the reader’s going to turn the page. When I read your book, I found numerous passages when I would slow down. And then when dialogue would bump up, particularly with the scenes with the cop, it then sped up.

Phillips: Right.

Correspondent: And so I’m curious. If time on a structural level was important, I’m curious if there was any importance you placed in terms of thinking of the reader and thinking of this notion of how fast the reader’s going to turn the page?

Phillips: That’s such a great question. And on one hand, I want to say, “Jeez, I wish I had more conscious — and I will vow in the future to have more conscious — understanding of those technical matters.” On the other hand, it seems a little impossible to control. Well, not just a little. It’s entirely impossible. I think any time you start getting into what does the reader or what does a reader expect, react to, experience, you’re doomed. I mean, you’re just — it can’t be. If you have one or ten or a hundred or ten thousand or a hundred million readers, they’re just different. And this is just so obvious that it’s just not saying anything. But it says everything. Because if everybody’s going to have a slightly different reaction, even taking a smaller subset of the people who “like” it, they’re going to all have a different reaction. You can’t plan for them. So the only reader that you can really have much planning for is yourself. At which point, I don’t really have to think very consciously about “I need to speed it up here, I need to slow it down here.” All I have is the feeling of “I’m bored.” And so when I’m writing and I go back and I read the draft, I say, “Oh this is just — I’m just bored.” Something has to happen here that is different from what’s happening. Because I don’t like it. And then at the end of it, when I’ve gone and I’ve done that twenty-five times, and I say, “I like the whole thing,” then it’s done.

Correspondent: Well, to deflate my own interlocutory souffle…

Phillips: (laughs)

Correspondent: I should point out that this may very well be the difference between having lots of dialogue and having lots of imagery. I guess the question here is how intuitive is it really. I mean, when you’re getting lost in a long sentence, whether as a writer or even as a reader, you’re going to be aware of the slowness. Or maybe you’re lost in such a fugue state that there really is no sense of time.

Phillips: Right. I’m reading The Recognitions right now and…

Correspondent: First time?

Phillips: First time.

Correspondent: Oh wow.

Phillips: And I’m having all kinds of temporal feelings about that book as I work with it. There are times when I am lost in a fugue state, although not often enough for my taste. And often I’m feeling, “I think Gaddis was lost in a fugue state. And I just can’t join him for some reason.” I don’t know that it’s just images and dialogue. I think that you can have some very impenetrable, hard-to-wrestle-with dialogue. And actually that’s what brings The Recognitions to mind. Because there are passages. Long passages.

Correspondent: The party scenes, I know.

Phillips: You know, there’s a forty page party scene with almost nothing but dialogue. And you have to go, “Oh wait a minute. Is this the same person who four pages earlier was talking? And where is that in relation to the little girl asking for sleeping pills?” And all the rest of it. So it goes on and on. So you can have some very slow-moving dialogue. And actually I was thinking about Gaddis writing that in ’55, and Nabokov in some period around the same time doing one of his customary unappealing little digs at novels that are all dialogue, and thinking, “I wonder if he read this, looked at it, had any feeling about this, would have included or excluded it from that grouping.” Generally speaking, light dialogue goes faster than description or internal thought. But not necessarily, I guess is the short answer. I could have said “Not necessarily” about fifteen minutes ago.

Correspondent: (laughs) That’s all right.

Phillips: There you go. Just cut it down to the dialogue.

BSS #288: Arthur Phillips (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #286.

Michelle Goldberg is most recently the author of The Means of Reproduction.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering if there’s any fate in what we make.

Author: Michelle Goldberg

Subjects Discussed: [TK]


goldbergCorrespondent: You use the words — the modifier “seemingly liberated’ — to describe this educated Indian woman who goes and, of her own volition, says, “I want to have boys. I don’t want to have girls.” Let’s actually take this into consideration, along with the case of Fuambai Ahmadu, who would feel very much insulted by the notion that she is not empowered. Here is someone who has been circumcized and who finds the notion of being mutilated — that particular verb as applied to her — very gravely offensive. So now we’re dealing with a scenario in which, if we are trying to talk about broader problems like reproduction and reproduction rights, we are also talking about having to deal with people who have values that are 180 from us. And simultaneously we’re trying to get through to them. But now we’re in a situation in which we have to find some kind of Venn diagram of how we talk with them. And if you think that this is not reconcilable, as you suggested two answers ago, I must point out some problems with this overall thesis. Because if we cannot communicate to these people; if we cannot respect the rights in a cultural relativist way of these people to make decisions that are converse to pro-choice, that are converse to women’s right (at least as they are established in our country), how then do we find common ground here?

Goldberg: Well, I’m not saying that we can’t discuss them. I’m saying that I don’t think it’s always — or maybe it’s just beyond me — to create some kind of absolutist system in which we can kind of hallucinate and create a hierarchy of what falls under the category of universal human rights, what is multiculturalism, and how we value the right of people to perpetuate their own cultural practices vs. the rights of dissidents to be protected by universal human rights guarantees. I clearly, over and over again, tend to side with people who say — with minorities who do demand to be protected by the same kind of universal human rights guarantees that I cherish. I’m not particularly sympathetic to multiculturalist or relativistic arguments, as opposed to universal kind of enlightenment type arguments. But I guess what I’m saying is that this book is about — I’m often interested in the ambiguities and the hard questions and the human stories in which it’s not as easy to sort out this hierarchy of values. You know, I’m not a philosopher like Martha Nussbaum, who has created this very rigorous and well thought out taxonomy of these different issues.

Correspondent: I guess that the question here is: When someone like Eve Ensler goes to Kenya and gives a V Day jeep to Agnes Pareyio, is there not something imperialistic about that notion of taking our particular values and stamping them onto another country that doesn’t necessarily reflect it? I mean, this is really what the problem is in terms of your complaints about the Cairo conference — the UN convention — in which you complain about the Vatican and you point out, “Well, it’s a country of 1,000 people. Mostly celibate men.” Nevertheless, it is a country. Nevertheless, we do have to have some sort of communicative process. The question is what conditions would seem to be fair to present these messages in ways that don’t feel imperialist and that don’t encroach upon these terms that we may consider here in America to be terrible or perjorative or just really against our notion of human rights and what someone else considers to be, “Well, this is my form of empowerment. This is the way I go about the universe.”

Goldberg: Well, let’s back up and explain what we’re talking about here, right? We’re talking about the context of Agnes Pareyio.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Goldberg: And Fuambai Ahmadu. We’re talking about female genital cutting, or female circumcision. Fuamabi Ahmadu is a woman in this book who is from Sierra Leone, who undergoes circumcision as an adult, who is someone who talks about it being a valuable part of her cultural identity, who is probably the most eloquent defender of the practice on the global stage. In part because, although it’s clearly very valued in these societies — otherwise, people wouldn’t fight so hard to keep the practices alive — the people who genuinely practice it aren’t people who have a lot of access to NGOs and the media, etcetera. So I think she’s an important voice. At the same time, I think the question of whether Eve Ensler is being imperialistic by supporting these women in Kenya who are fighting female genital cutting, I don’t know. To me, it’s not that interesting. And I think if you brought that up with Agnes Pareyio, who is someone who’s from the community who practices this, who’s underwent it herself, who’s regretted it her whole life, who’s a grassroots activist against it. Girls were running away from home to escape this practice and she was finding them places to stay and enrolling them in school. And then she finally met Eve Ensler. And then Eve Ensler started to support her. I think that the question of “Well, is it imperialist to support Agnes Pareyio?” is kind of insulting to her. Because she has just as much right. She’s just as authentic a voice for her community. She has just as much right to try to change and create progress in her community as we have to create progress in ours.

BSS #286: Michelle Goldberg (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: John Wray

John Wray appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #282.

John Wray is most recently the author of Lowboy.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for those who will listen to him in the subway.

Author: John Wray

Subjects Discussed: The ABAB narrative of Lowboy, mirroring schizophrenia within a narrative structure, a sane perspective that assists the reader, subway details, Franz Kafka’s Amerika, real vs. imaginary details, Jonathan Zizmor, the C#/A subway tone, the origin of the character name Heller, Ulysses, resisting eccentric character names, merging two words into one unhyphenated word, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ideal seating positions in a subway, appealing to a wider audience, balancing the uncompromising literary voice with suspense, comparing the research in Wray’s three books, the difficulties of convincing the reader, Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, sexual preoccupation and schizophrenia, an intimate third-person voice, the relationship (or lack thereof) between Freud and Schreber, pat summations, urban exploration, the benefits of imagination, the Sikh religion and the end of the Seventh Avenue Line, open interpretations and false connections, respect for the subconscious, the old City Hall station, the dangers of being subsumed by research, writing vs. thinking, graphical segues in prose, B.S. Johnson’s holes, and John Wray vs. John Henderson.


johnwrayCorrespondent: You have Emily and Lowboy entering at the 14th Street station. I’m going to get subway geeky with you here.

Wray: Okay.

Correspondent: I should point out that when you get into Union Square, there is — or there is now and there won’t be very soon — a Virgin Megastore.

Wray: Right.

Correspondent: Was that particular location a deliberate choice on your part?

Wray: (laughs) You know, sometimes there are just these happy accidents that come about either completely by chance or through some sort of action of the subconscious. I’m not really sure. The German editor of Lowboy was very proud of himself for the game of interpretation that he played, which involved a lot of reversals and mirror image analyses, that I guess you could say. He was very proud of himself for having been the only person to discover that the name of the detective in the novel, Ali Lateef..

Correspondent: Either the jazz artist or even the hip-hop artist in Oakland.

Wray: Well, there’s that. Yeah, that was a conscious reference on my part. But this German editor of mine was very proud to have figured out that Lateef spelled backwards is “fetal.”

Correspondent: Yes.

Wray: Which is something that I never thought of. In a million years, I wouldn’t have thought of that. And I still don’t know what he was getting at. But who knows? I mean, it’s quite possible that these things percolate up from the subconscious in some way.

Correspondent: But I also must point out that the 86th Street Station does not have a line that you can see across, as you point out in this particular book. This led me then to believe as I was reading it, “Oh! Is this really real or not?” It was a kind of clue. Deliberate choice on your part?

Wray: Well, I deliberately — I’ve always been a big fan of Franz Kafka’s novel, Amerika. Particularly of the way that Amerika begins. Amerika, of course, being a novel written by someone who had never been to America and who was making deliberate use of the myth of America as a way of addressing many other things. Kafka was not particularly interested in the United States. And in the beginning of the novel Amerika, this boat filled with immigrants enters New York Harbor. And one of the very first sentences describes the Statue of Liberty holding aloft its wonderful gleaming sword.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Wray: Rather than the torch, of course. So in an earlier version of Lowboy, in a bit of a tip of the hat to that novel, I introduced various, fairly overt features into this New York City that would differentiate it from the New York of realistic fiction. Then as the novel evolved, it became more and more naturalistic in a way, and eventually settled into this mode of heightened realism that it now occupies. But there are still certain little vestiges of that earlier alternative New York.

Correspondent: And this would be one of them.

Wray: I think you’ve caught one of them. Yeah.

BSS #282: John Wray (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #280.

Laura Lippman is most recently the author of Life Sentences.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Frightened of sleazy and opportunistic biographers.

Author: Laura Lippman

Subjects Discussed: Cassandra Fallows vs. Kathryn Harrison, writers with peculiar personalities, the memoir dictating the memoirist, Hegelian synthesis, the Quarter Pounder and Proustian comparisons, philosophical modifiers, the inauthentic self, stereotypes of NPR listeners, book smart vs. people smart, satire and gentle fun, shaking the “serious is better” notion, Thomas Pynchon, being true to voice, the problems with the word “ballsy,” writing effrontery, Janet Maslin’s overanalysis of Life Sentences, the value of the red herring, the benefits of found opportunities, the problems with plans, Portnoy’s Complaint, creating deflections for the reader, the Oz books and the Nome King, Philip Roth’s Zuckerman, overworking sentences, the joys of dashes, Emily Dickinson, smarmy memoirs, reading the entire book aloud at 40 pages per day, writing a book a year, following instructions, William Gibson, editing as “deboning a fish,” Lippman’s work ethic as a saving grace, racist perceptions, generalizations, and the older generation in Baltimore, the fallibility of memory, the purpose of memoir, Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty, making stuff up, basing a novel on true crime, the ethics of taking from real-life stories, responding to email, investigative journalism and amateurism, faking it, and losing sight of the victims over the course of fiction or investigation.


lippmanCorrespondent: You have, of course, Callie-ope — Calliope — and Cassandra. I read Janet Maslin’s review in the New York Times and she seemed to be really hung up on the notion that this represented some Greek mythology. But when I read your book, I immediately said to myself, “Oh! Well, this is a very funny red herring to throw the reader off.” Just as the dates that precede each particular section have no significant meaning, or very little meaning, on the narrative. And I’m wondering if little red herrings along these lines are intended to either see if the critics of the Janet Maslin streak are going to latch onto them or whether they represent a way for you to obtain this level of “just doing it” that you just described in your last answer.

Lippman: It is true that both Cassandra and Calliope show up in the narrative, show up in my writing, with their names attached to them. I did not sit down and schematically design a story in which, yes, I will create two characters named after classic figures of Greek mythology. Cassandra was Cassandra. And then I realized her father was a Classics professor, and I began to think he would have conveyed. And Calliope was just always Calliope. There’s a certain Baltimore-ness to it. But I’m a really big believer in found opportunity. And sometimes writers create their own found opportunities. So it’s an accident that the two main characters of this novel have these names that have a lot of resonance. But I’m okay when people then see the resonance and point it out. It’s like someone at a painting and focusing on a detail that might not have been the intent. But it’s in there. It is there.

My belief is that if one is overly schematic in writing, it will feel a little stale and airless. So on the one hand, I’m delighted that people come to this and say, “Oh! Cassandra and Calliope. There’s all this significance.” Well, there is for them. They found it and it affects the way they read the story. And that’s great. At the same time, I think that if I had had a plan, I think the novel would have a really contrived feeling to it. I think it would feel kind of pedantic. One of the things I didn’t plan. You know, it just comes out. You’re writing. I write trying to think about who is this person and what would they be doing and what would they be thinking at this moment. And there’s a scene in which Cassandra has sex with someone who she’s really been yearning for. And because Cassandra can’t turn her head off ever, she’s thinking and thinking. And for some reason, she starts thinking about Leda and the Swan. Which if people are really paying attention, and they’ve seen the bit about Portnoy’s Complaint in the book, that’s very important in Portnoy’s Complaint. So Cassandra, whether she knows or not, is actually channeling that book that she read as a kid, which she remembers seeing in her father’s house.

So I’m writing this. And, you know, I don’t remember every line of Leda and the Swan! And, by the way, although I’m pretty well versed in Greek mythology, I didn’t remember that Leda gave birth to Cassandra. I didn’t remember that. So I go back and I read the poem and I just think, “Oh my god. That’s hilarious!” And if I had planned it. If I had been writing to that moment steadily for days and days — “Oh, I can’t wait until the moment in which Cassandra evokes her namesake’s mother. Via Yeats in bed.” — I think it would have felt a little off.

BSS #280: Laura Lippman (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #279.

Carl Wilson is the author of Let’s Talk About Love and reports indicate that he is loved, in turn, by the actor James Franco.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Evading the pomp and circumstance of cultural taxonomies.

Author: Carl Wilson

Subjects Discussed: Celine Dion and incompatible tastes, Elliott Smith, the questioning of canonical knowledge, Paul Valery’s concept of taste composed of a thousand distastes, TV on the Radio, choosing sides when dismissing trash, defying the stereotypes of Celine Dion fans, snobbish record store clerks and zealous fans, anti-snobbery, false dichotomies and cultural advantage, culture and existing power structures, Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, the Internet and the music industry, fans and cultural capital, Immanuel Kant and “common sense,” cultural consensus, the Beatles, questioning Wilson’s party criteria, middlebrow aesthetes in newspapers, separating the person from the artist, the relationship between vituperative feelings and meeting people, the celebrity-industrial complex, Dion’s 2005 appearance on Larry King, whether or not Larry King mocks his guests, judging a person on a handful of eccentricities, whether it’s possible to see the “real” Celine Dion, reinforcing celebrity image, whether or not personal information about an artist can affect your opinion about the art, Michael Jackson, “classic” vs. contemporary pop culture, the expiration date of scorn, that damn song from Titanic, Celine Dion in Vegas, music and emotional frames of reference, the problems with the word “social” being applied to art, Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, the problems with “hip,” coolness and judgment, the Mountain Goats, the perceived “hipness” of alt-music boosters, authenticity, “keeping it real,” and civil disagreement.

(Note: Video excerpt forthcoming.)


wilson2Correspondent: But look at the Beatles and Elvis. I mean, this would seem to me to confirm the ideal conditions. It would be very difficult to find someone who is a music lover who hates the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Elvis. I mean, there’s a fairly common consensus. Even if you don’t love them, you can at least appreciate the achievement of these bands that just went in and likewise captured the popular consensus. And this is a little bit different from Celine Dion.

Wilson: It is.

Correspondent: In which there’s an artistic criteria likewise being applied. So how do you separate this?

Wilson: I mean, it’s different than Celine Dion. And it’s different than Stockhausen. Right? So look at them as poles of a spectrum and the Beatles and Elvis as being somewhere in the center of that spectrum. By the end of the book, there’s a whole essay at the end of the book about taste and different ways of thinking about it and criticism. And the thing, that at the end of this whole process of immersing myself into a different taste world than my own, was that where those big aesthetic disagreements arise, my tendency at this point is to suspect that really it’s a problem of terms. That people are arguing on a different set of assumptions than one another, but that their conclusions are perhaps equally valid. But that doesn’t mean that I think now that Celine Dion and the Beatles are equals. And it would be a whole other sort of chapter of this exploration to figure out where to find some kind of more objective set of measurements for greatness. But if you’re using populism and anti-populism hand in hand, what you do find with people like Elvis and the Beatles, and Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles — you know, they kind of win all of those contests. I’m not saying everything’s the same.

Correspondent: Then what accounts for the aberrative impulse for Celine Dion then?

Wilson: I think that there are things that are confirmed both by elite opinion and populist opinion. And in those cases, it’s kind of good to think, “Oh, well, whichever direction you come from, this gets through the gates.” What explains what doesn’t get through one set of gates and what doesn’t get through another set of gates. And so the book is more concerned with aesthetic disagreement than aesthetic agreement. And it’s a question of when we have these fights. When you’re at a party and somebody’s saying, “This is great,” and you’re saying, “This is terrible,” what are you really talking about? And my suspicion is that you’re talking about something that has more of a deeply autobiographical root than it has any connection to some objective set of markers. But that’s not to say that there might not be works of art that are more profound and universal than others.

Correspondent: But see, Carl, this is where I’m going to have to disagree with you. Because you’re applying a criteria here where if I go to a party to express a particular opinion about music, I’m immediately going to focus in on Celine Dion and absolutely damn her to the skies. When, in fact, in my case, I have not actually thought about Celine Dion in any serious capacity until I read your book. I mean, I largely ignored her. So this is why I’m a little suspicious. I mean, I hear where you’re coming from. But I’m a little suspicious of how you’re applying such a broad brush to how we have tastes and how we express those tastes at parties.

Wilson: Well, it might just be that Celine’s not the best example for you. But maybe Whitney Houston is a good example for you. I think there’s a whole category…

Correspondent: I ignore her too!

Wilson: But that just, to me, speaks to the aesthetic world that you live in — it’s well cordoned off enough from places where you might have to deal with that. But, I mean, the places where I use as examples in setting this up is, in the media, the people who are representatives of our tribe. You know, the aesthetes. Which are middlebrow aesthetes in terms of who’s writing a column in the newspaper. Celine is a very favorite whipping boy.

Correspondent: Whipping boy. Have you looked at her lately?

(Photo credit: David Waldman)

BSS #279: Carl Wilson (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Eric Kraft

One of the difficulties of managing so many projects is that I continue to forget that I am committing some of these conversations to video. So I must now atone for the slightly delayed missing component. If you missed out on the elaborate roundtable discussion for Flying, or you don’t have the 2+ hour investment to listen to the three-part podcast (Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three), or you just want to get a sense of how much remarkable vivacity Mr. Kraft has, then the above four-minute video excerpt should offer a dutiful encapsulation of what became, over the course of March, quite a momentous undertaking. And if you haven’t yet picked up Flying, and wish to plunge into some crazed postmodernist fun that may keep you occupied for some time, well, the bookstore still awaits.

(For those who tire of my continuous Kraft boosterism, don’t worry. This will likely be the last post related to Mr. Kraft for quite some time.)

The Bat Segundo Show: T.C. Boyle III

T.C. Boyle appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #273.

T.C. Boyle is most recently the author of The Women. To listen to our previous interviews with Mr. Boyle, check out The Bat Segundo Show #70 and The Bat Segundo Show #10.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering new author taxonomies.

Author: T.C. Boyle

Subjects Discussed: How to conquer jet lag, Ellen Key’s The Woman Movement, the individual vs. the spirit of the time, feminism and Frank Lloyd Wright, notions of education, Miriam’s presence and hypercaffeinated prose, balancing the women in The Women, the ABAB narrative of the first section and Talk Talk, representing Wright through his women, novelizing a fictive novelist’s biography, Blake Bailey, the burdens of chronological order, parallels between Wright and Boyle, the question of what anybody really knows about history from hearsay, seeing the details through an ever-shifting prism, the novel as a suspect medium, Riven Rock, dashes, sentences, and parenthetical information, annotations and “the rest is commentary,” art standing above morality, balancing empathy and the satirical impulse, rejecting reader expectations, reputation and renown vs. not knowing, why cruelty is necessary, reevaluation, empathy and narcissism, and understanding an artist.


boyleBoyle: I try to get it both ways. I try to involve you in something in a satiric way. And yet it should also move you. And of course, in this book, I had to do that because of the tragedy of Mamah, which will conclude the book. So you have to set the reader up for that throughout. And I think there is tragedy throughout the book. Tadashi’s life is incredibly tragic in many, many regards. So again, I’m playing one element against the other throughout. And there is commentary upon commentary upon commentary. And, for me, it opened up the structure and it made it fun. It made it invigorating. A lot of the footnotes exist to give you information that I would like you to know about Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings and where he was at any given time. But a lot of them also, I just express surprise on the part of Tadashi. And I find the hilarious.

Correspondent: Well, the question is: Okay, the reader wants to know about the artist. And essentially you believe — your own particular view is — that the art should stand above any morality. This is interesting because we don’t know about the artists. And simultaneously, well, you do have many details about Taliesin, as well as the skies and the views and all that. But I’m curious if this almost runs counter to the impulse if you’re playing with the reader’s expectations. So that they will never know about the artist, even though this is, in fact, why they read your books. Whether that’s entirely fair to the reader.

Boyle: Well, don’t forget that when I am creating art, I don’t mean to be fair to the reader or unfair to the reader. Those questions lie right outside the parameters of what I’m doing. I’m dreaming something. I’m creating something for my own purposes. I deliberate to you. And I hope that you interact with it in some way. And obviously you do and other readers do. Sophisticated art, to my mind, doesn’t provide answers and doesn’t have an agenda other than art itself. So I think a book like this one, of all my books, is probably the one in which the reader will be most engaged to try and unravel the truth of what it is in its own right. And don’t forget. I’m not writing about an unknown figure here. Kinsey, as you know, was recognizable second only to the President in this country in his time. But by the time I wrote about him, everyone had completely forgotten who he is. No one knows who he is. And Kellogg too was lost to the mists of history. But again, Frank Lloyd Wright, there’s been a thousand books. There’s a cult. People are lined up in Chicago today, freezing, to get in and go on the tour. So this is someone who has been written about eternally and is very well-known. My interest is: How do I get a new angle on this?

Correspondent: So by him being more well known than Kinsey or Kellogg, you can then justify this notion of not knowing Frank Lloyd Wright. That’s what you’re saying. Of the reader not knowing.

Boyle: If this is your interpretation, I would say yes. But again, I think you do know him. You do see him from his point of view a few times. But I didn’t want to represent his point of view a great deal. Because then you know his motivation and you know what he’s thinking. I would rather have it — that’s why I called it The Women. I’d rather have him viewed from other perspectives so that you can make your own determination. And, yes, I think part of that determination is that he was incredibly narcissistic. Maybe one of the most narcissistic people who ever lived. And yet narcissism, as we talked about with regard to Peck Wilson in Talk Talk, can be very damaging to everybody around you. I like to hope and think that I am sympathetic to people whom I meet and with people who are close to me. And that far from damaging them, I might even be aiding them in some way. A narcissist like Frank Lloyd Wright though, or Kinsey or Kellogg, doesn’t view the world in that way. Everybody else is simply valuable, only as they fit into his regime. So I think that any reader, even the least sophisticated reader of this book, will have a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright that may be more true than what you get from a biography.

(Photo credit: Christopher Felver)

BSS #273: T.C. Boyle III (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Tony Stone

Tony Stone appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #271.

Tony Stone is the director, writer, producer, editor, and actor of Severed Ways, a film about Vikings that opens in limited release on March 13, 2009.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unsure of whether he wants to be a Viking or not.

Guest: Tony Stone

Subjects Discussed: The many crew positions that Tony Stone worked, music clearance people who keep weapons under their beds, making a film with seven chapters, how a two week shoot went on for three years, not getting the visuals right the first time, motivations for handheld camera work, accepting art as it is, “Greedo shoots first,” contemporary slang transposed into Viking talk, A Knight’s Tale, how far filmmakers can go in “modernizing” historical settings, the ethics of killing chickens on screen, Ingmar Bergman’s Shame, helpful ways of agitating both vegetarians and meat eaters through cinema, filming a defecation scene, the appropriate constituency of shit for a beautiful shot, Charles Leland’s Algonquin Legends, abstaining from profiling the Abenaki religion, paganism, anarchy, and secular humanism.


tstoneCorrespondent: “This fish is pretty killer.” Well, “killer,” as I understand it, is a recent modifier in the English language.

Stone: Yes, it is.

Correspondent: And I don’t think necessarily that the Vikings were using this or that the Nordic tongue had any answer to “killer.” So why the modernization of etymology here? Is this an inroad point along the lines of the Viking headbanger who likewise appears in this?

Stone: Yeah. It’s that. But it’s also that a lot of the times, you’d watch any period piece or historical film, whether it’s Romans or barbarians or whatever else, they’re speaking in semi-Shakespearean accents in their Old British. It doesn’t really make any sense. And everything’s very formal. There’s no reason why, a thousand years ago, they weren’t just as casual as us and they had their own vernacular. So this is using a piece of dialogue — like “This fish is killer” — is basically more of an accurate translation in my mind. Because you’re taking whatever their vernacular was and putting it into our vernacular. So you understand the tone and the vibe of what they’re actually saying. So I actually find there’s more accuracy in it. And we’ve just been so beaten down by the traditional Hollywood stupidity of how I’m dealing with history in films. So that sort of explains why I wanted it there. And of course, the film is trying to bridge the past and the present. And so it’s maing these characters have mannerisms that maybe the dude walking down the street has. Or whatever else. It’s trying to just not have it be this distant, far off, separate thing. It’s trying to make it more current and now. And it is with us.

Correspondent: But on the flip side, there is a certain point where it becomes ridiculous; i.e., A Knight’s Tale, for example. In which you have the Nike swoosh in the Middle Ages. Do you remember this film?

Stone: Yeah, I do. I do.

Correspondent: I mean, it was totally ridiculous. It was fun. But at the same time, one does not look to this for verisimilitude.

Stone: “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Yeah.

Correspondent: So the question is: how far can you go with this?

Stone: Yeah, that’s interesting. A Knight’s Tale. I forgot about that. It’s been a while. But yeah. They use modern music.

Correspondent: “We Will Rock You.” Yeah.

Stone: Then there’s that amazing part where they’re going back to London. And the Thin Lizzy song comes in. “The Boys Are Back In Town.” (laughs) It’s very incredible.

Correspondent: I mean, if we’re talking about Hollywood stupidity, I’m wondering how…

Stone: Yeah. Obviously, there is a level of absurdness to it. I’m not going to deny it. But I think the film is sort of rebellious in a way. It’s trying to set up a dialogue. I don’t know. But in a way, like I’m saying, it’s sort of modernizing the Viking. Making him a current character. Making him more similar to somebody maybe you know is the idea. I’m just getting away from that wall that’s usually put up in terms of dealing with historical material.

BSS #271: Tony Stone (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Charlie Huston II

Charlie Huston appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #267.

Charlie Huston is most recently the author of The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. To listen to our previous interview with Mr. Huston, check out The Bat Segundo Show #98.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Looking for an efficient and affordable cleanup service.

Author: Charlie Huston

Subjects Discussed: Huston’s concern for locative detail, unusual sentence structures, sequential details within sentences, the run-on sentence in relation to narrative action, the burdens of writing novels quickly, rhythm and alternating sentences, whether or not the word “motherfucker” haunts Huston in his dreams, sentences repeating and following a character demand, getting across pace without having characters describe the pace, working over sequences amidst restrictive writing conditions, pushing the story forward with aggression, trying to steer around cliches, being subconsciously funny with the books, the burden of the Joe Pitt books, masturbating on the page, avoiding violence directed at dogs in the most recent books, consciously playing down the violence, on “going soft,” slipping into habit, the typographical dash mistake in Mystic Arts, on whether John Wayne is the standard for the roundhouse haymaker, why almonds were chosen over pecans, agricultural hijacking, cockroaches, transcribed speech and fey okays, the culinary horrors of Slim Jims, and conducting research.



hustonHuston: Sometimes, if you use the same words, you can put a little tinkle of irony into it. In the fact that you describe him doing it exactly the way the person just told him. So you use the exact same words. It’s hard for me to answer questions about the writing that are that precise. Because so much of the process is not that precise for me. So much of it is shoveling. And you’re not too terribly conscious of how you shovel while you’re doing it. Whether you’re good at it or not.

Correspondent: But you just confessed to me that the “heartbeat” sequence was worked over. I mean…

Huston: That one, yes, absolutely. But in general, I’m saying. Like if you’re asking general questions about the way I use rhythm and use repetitions and stuff, I can draw out an example like that. Where it was very specific and where I had very particular goals that I’m articulating now with much more depth than I ever articulated to myself at the time. But in terms of being able to generally say why those rhythms appeal to me, why I use them, I don’t know. I’m kind of making it up right now the same way I’m making it up as I write it. Well, I think it works like this. But does it? That’s kind of where I am with that stuff.

Correspondent: Yeah. But this is interesting to me because you have such restrictive deadlines. And here you are working over a specific sequence. This is why I’m kind of interested in how you’re developing your rhythm, even with these constrictive conditions.

Huston: And that may also just be part of it. You know, some of those things. You know, Ed, I just don’t know, man. I mean, that’s really the bottom line. I don’t know how far I can penetrate into this and have it not just be bullshit at a certain point. I mean, it’s just coming out that way. It’s just coming out that way. And I don’t know if the time frame has as much to do with it. The time frame tends to play more into things that slip through the crack that might be messy. Like that long sentence that you had. And how it’s a combination of “I find myself making connections that I might not otherwise make because I’m writing clip clip clip” and also a situation in which “I find myself writing sloppy things that I might otherwise clean up if I had more time.” The time constriction tends to manifest itself more in pushing the story forward very aggressively. In sometimes making choices that, fifty pages later, I wish I hadn’t made. Because there were implications I hadn’t considered, but with enough time to go back and unchoose that choice. So I have to do some more tap dancing to make it all work. And it also plays a large role in the extent to which I will more willingly embrace some genre conventions and cliches that I might otherwise try to find ways to steer around if I had a little more time.

(Photo credit: Mary Reagan)

BSS #267: Charlie Huston II (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #266.

Catherynne M. Valente is most recently the author of Palimpsest.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Looking for a way into a secret city.

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Subjects Discussed: Writing a novel with four character perspectives, how structure influences perspective, the importance of numbers, color theory, thriving on restriction, Neal Stephenson, the importance of flow and reading out loud, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, synesthesia, the purpose of puns, being a child of the Internet generation, Italo Calvino and the literature of the new millennium, planning a book entirely in one’s head, PersonalBrain, on not outlining a novel, having semiotics for breakfast, writers with kinks, multiple topographies within Palimpsest, perceptions of New York, the individual relationship to a city in relation to one’s individual sensibilities, genre classification, New New Weird and mythpunk, thinking while doing other things, the factors that cause Valente to write very fast, fighting the forces of marketability, chick lit, a future project involving the myth of Prester John, the problems with accessibility, the addiction to story, geek outreach and the publishing industry, Lev Grossman’s article, the communal experience, novel patches, the book as a permanent medium, secretive networks, the Kindle and the Sony eReader, Cory Doctorow, the bridge between print and online, Eric Kraft, and the signal-to-noise ratio in e-books.


valenteCorrespondent: Which number is your favorite? Or maybe one of your five favorite numbers?

Valente: Oh, my favorite number!

Correspondent: Do you do this on a single digit scenario?

Valente: I’m going to have to go with seven.

Correspondent: Seven!

Valente: Actually, a little girl came to one of my Orphan’s Tales readings. She came up to me after and said, “Why are there all those sevens in your book?” And I love seven. It’s a prime number. And it’s a typically mystical number. And it’s fascinating to me. But I almost never use it in structure. Because it doesn’t fit very well. It’s kind of an ornery number that way, which, I suppose, is why I’m attracted to it. Because I’m kind of ornery myself.

Correspondent: Well, you know, Neal Stephenson told me that seven was the ideal number of guests at a dinner table.

Valente: Oh, wow. I hadn’t thought about that.

Correspondent: What are the applications of seven? Not just to your fiction, but also to your general life?

Valente: Well, I guess it’s the number that I don’t use though. Seven is a number that doesn’t occur in nature very often. There aren’t too many seven-leafed or seven-petaled plants. That is why it’s a mystical number. Because it exists outside of the world. And so I don’t actually use it all that much. When I’m arranging things, I go with three. I go with four a tremendous amount. Of course, four is a very thorny number in Eastern culture. Because there’s four noble truths. But four also means death in Chinese and Japanese. And so they will often, much as our number thirteen, consider it unlucky, remove it from hotel rooms, and things like that. But I love the number four. I love the number eight. But seven is the number apart. So I use it in fairy tales all the time in terms of time. Seven days, seven years, seven months. There’s a character named Seven in The Orphan’s Tales. And that particular character deals with coins that have a seven-pointed star on them. But seven, I love, because it’s weird.

Correspondent: What’s your position on The Magnificent Seven or The Seven Samurai?

Valente: Well, of course, those come from Seven Against Thebes! Which is a wonderful ancient Greek play. I’m a classicist. So I always go straight back to that. And, of course, Seven Against Thebes comes from the seven dragon teeth that Cadmus planted in the earth. Yeah. Seven’s great.

(Photo credit: Ellen Datlow)

BSS #266: Catherynne M. Valente (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Robert G. Kaiser

Robert G. Kaiser recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #264.

Robert G. Kaiser has worked at the Washington Post since 1963. He is most recently the author of So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Still waiting for the lobbyists to work out a deal with him.

Author: Robert G. Kaiser

Subjects Discussed: Obama’s first executive order, revolving door bans, Tom Daschle’s recent troubles, “exceptions in extraordinary circumstances,” candidates for office with lobbying backgrounds, Gerald Cassidy, picking a character for a Washington narrative, the birth of the lobbying firm Schlossberg-Cassidy Associates, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, Cassidy falling into second place, lobbying problems and the 1994 Republican Revolution, the K Street Project, lobbying and partisan politics, Cassidy’s lobbying style vs. Abramoff’s lobbying style, Tom DeLay, safe seats, John Lewis, Richard Lugar, Chuck Schumer, the likelihood of an equitable earmarking system, Columbia’s early lobbying efforts with the chemistry lab, peer review, attempting to sort out differing accounts concerning the Tufts Nutrition Center, Jean Meyer, Edward Bernays and why his influential essay, “The Engineering of Consent,” took a few decades to catch on in Capitol Hill, Joe McGinnis’s The Selling of the President, Roger Ailes, the abandonment of objective reality over the past 45 years, the Jim Wright ethics investigation and whether or not Cassidy was culpable in Wright’s downfall, Newt Gingrich’s rise, and the potential for a return to the comparatively virtuous pre-Nixon Congress.


kaiserCorrespondent: You also bring up one moment in the book, where you depict Senator John Stennis — the man, of course, who wrote one of the first Senate ethics codes; in fact, the first Senate ethics code. And who had not raised more than $5,000 for all of his campaigns in the past. Now here he is up for reelection in 1982. And he needs to raise $2 million. He is now forced to accept this devil’s bargain. This leads me to wonder whether, in fact, there is even room for a Sam Rayburn type of Congressman anymore. Whether it’s even possible for someone of any ethical core to be in this deeply ingrained system. If John Stennis can’t do it, then who can?

Kaiser: Well, it’s one of my favorite stories in the book. I’m glad you noticed it. But all these things are complicated. For example, in today’s Congress, in the House, we have 435 members. Probably 200 of them — or even 220 — are in totally safe seats. That is to say, they can win reelection without campaigning at all probably. Or very minimally. And that’s because of the impact of, now, two generations of very aggressive gerrymandering. We call it redrawing of the districts and state legislatures every ten years after the census is done, in which both parties have accepted the same rule of thumb that the ideal outcome is to maximize the number of safe seats for our side and minimize them for the other side. You remember this episode in Texas, which actually lead to DeLay’s downfall, when he overplayed his hand on this subject and got the Texas legislature as soon as it was under Republican control to add four more Republican seats from Texas. Which he got away with initially. But he eventually got indicted for it. And that, I think, was the beginning of the end for DeLay.

Anyhow, there are opportunities because of these safe seats for people who don’t raise any money. And they don’t participate in the corrupt system at all. Which is an interesting footnote. It just means that a large portion of members are exempt from the usual pains and tribulations of trying to raise all this money. Not true in the Senate, where everybody is theoretically more vulnerable in a way. They all try and raise the dough.

Correspondent: But if there are so many safe seats, is it possible that there could be some sort of Sam Rayburn type in a safe seat? Someone who refuses to, of course, accept any money. Pays his own way, as Rayburn did.

Kaiser: John Lewis of Atlanta. The great leader of the civil rights movement and fascinating figure, who I know slightly. I heard him preach on Sunday before the inauguration in a black church in Washington, which I just went to by chance. I didn’t realize he was going to be preaching there. He gave a remarkable presentation. But John Lewis has a very safe seat in parts of Atlanta. He’s a revered figure. I have no idea how much he raises for his elections. I should probably check that out. But Lewis is a good example of a distinguished citizen in Congress who is not corrupted by this system, as far as I know. And there are people who build up a kind of invincible status. Richard Lugar of Indiana would be a really good example of this. Lugar: former mayor of Indianapolis, Rhodes Scholar, good citizen. Conservative Republican. Nixon Republican originally when he came to town in the 70s. Lugar wins reelection, as he did this time, by huge majorities and doesn’t have to do any bad stuff, I don’t think, to raise money. There are a number of such figures who could fulfill your definition, I think, of a Sam Rayburn-like independent man. But they are the exceptions certainly.

BSS #264: Robert G. Kaiser (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Nick Antosca

Nick Antosca recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #263.

Nick Antosca is most recently the author of Midnight Picnic.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Terrified about what his ex-wife does during a midnight picnic.

Author: Nick Antosca

Subjects Discussed: The lack of picnics in Midnight Picnic, Jackie Corley’s confusion with the title, Midnight Picnic vs. Midnight Panic, dream logic, mouth birth dogs, Mr. Antosca’s lifelong dog trauma, writing about dogs being hurt, being self-conscious about writing, Charlie Huston, interviewers who use the phrase “blown your load” in relation to Mr. Antosca, Ned Vizzini, drinking as the natural fatal flaw for a homicidal maniac, short sentences, word counts and trauma, James Salter and ghost stories, the two year waiting period before assessing, unconventional chapter headings, the geography of the afterlife, tumbling into other memories, smell of the living vs. smell of the dead, the relationship between lap dancing and rigor mortis, dining experiences at Roy Rogers restaurants, New Orleans, the reality of midgets, high school deaths, “Appalachian monsters” in Florida, breastbone descriptions, razors with frightening blades, blocking, 2666, on being self-conscious and subconscious while writing, “You can’t take the dogs out of Nick Antosca,” science and melting pit bulls in an Antosca screenplay from the early years, the last-minute publishing shift from Impetus to Word Riot, the Clinton and Obama of publishers (but no Bush apparently), the publishing apocalypse, working a day job, writing for the now defunct New York Sun books section, demand for Antosca’s work, and anxiety.



Correspondent: Do you have any personal experience of putting your mouth around a dog? How did this come about? It’s rather extraordinary. There are four of them.

Antosca: No, I can’t. I don’t know where that came from. I think the idea was just that there had to be something pretty disturbing that this kid wanted to do to the man who had killed him. Well, I don’t want to describe what the mouth birth dogs are too much for people who haven’t read the book. But it’s supposed to be a shocking moment in the book, and kind of disgusting and disturbing.

Correspondent: Enthralling, I would say.

Antosca: Yeah.

Correspondent: But then that’s just me.

Antosca: I hope it’s pretty memorable. But I don’t know. I can’t remember where the idea of them came from. I think I saw a picture of a giant Continental Rabbit somewhere. I think these are rabbits. They’re as big as dogs. And they’re sort of cute and sort of disgusting. And for some reason, I pictured that as half-rabbit and half-dog, and that became this image. Like I said, with this book, I was willing — like I encouraged myself to just follow imagery where it would lead.

Correspondent: Is there something in the obvious spelling scenario? In which dog spells “god” backwards. That this might be your inverted way of coming to terms with a potential deity. And the fact that it comes from the mouth as opposed to from the skies. I mean, I don’t know. You tell me here.

Antosca: Well…

Correspondent: Are you a religious man, Nick?

Antosca: No, not really.

Correspondent: Okay. So the dog is your religion then?

Antosca: Well, the idea of the dog god mouth is a pretty fascinating question. I don’t think that my interest in dogs has anything to do with concern about god. Or whether god exists. I think it’s more a concern about possibly being betrayed by something that you trust, aren’t close to, and think is not ever going to harm you. You think of a kid and his dog as a pure relationship. And the idea that it might turn on you and shred you is sort of compelling.

Correspondent: It certainly is.

Antosca: The idea that you might still feel an allegiance to that animal. It’s almost a cliche. The idea of the kid being attacked by the dog when the parents want to put the dog to sleep. “No! No! Don’t do that!” Which I think is what I remember from when I was five or six. When that happened.

(Photo credit: Sonja Ostrow)

BSS #263: Nick Antosca (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Shauna Reid

Shauna Reid recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #262.

Shauna Reid is most recently the author of The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Still stinging from his measly memoir efforts.

Author: Shauna Reid

Subjects Discussed: Whether the pursuit of truth is more natural through an anonymous journal, writing as “burdening people,” compartmentalizing online identities, self-esteem, contending with the permanent nature of personal stories contained within a book, how the weight loss journey never ends, remaining fallible with the success story label, connective possibilities that exceed expectations, negotiating the Weight Watchers points system, applying group rules to an individual struggle, differences between the American and the UK versions of the book, being branded “Dietgirl,” the vampire method of exercise, amazing fitness instructors, battling against body image, “perfect” people, societal guides for individual struggles, using spreadsheets to keep track of health statistics, substituting one obsession with another, reprogramming a life, the relationship between physical distance from home and moving ahead with one’s life, placing fabricated news stories within the book, being the largest size in the shop at 23, the false connections between happiness and weight, how not talking about problems put strains on friendships, finding an auctorial voice, adjustments to early journal entries, chronicling friends and marriage, Vegemite parties, immigration, marriage, and entrapment, deportation, not living life because of weight issues, “wasting” one’s twenties, and balancing anarchy and being grounded.


shaunareidReid: You don’t want to burden people with this depressing stuff. So the blog is just my little haven to finally be honest with myself about how I felt.

Correspondent: But “burdening” people. This is an interesting word that you use. I mean, do you feel that all of your writing in general involves “burdening” people? Certainly, I’ve read your stuff for quite a long time and I have never felt any sense of burden. And I’m wondering how this interior sense of burdening people — do you still feel this way?

Reid: No, I don’t feel that way anymore. I think it just goes to show just how crap my self-esteem was back when I started it. Because What’s New, Pussycat? was my original blog. It was where I kind of separated my physical self from everything that was happening in my head. It was where I could be funny. And it didn’t matter what I weighed. I felt so free to be my true self there. Whereas I felt the need to keep outside to do something about my weight. I didn’t feel comfortable letting that audience know that this was the real me. This was this problem I was dealing with. So I just had this ridiculous two separate online lives. It was very hard keeping them up, to be honest.

Correspondent: Yeah, you had to compartmentalize these identities.

Reid: Yeah, I was totally compartmentalizing my life. Because my offline friends and family didn’t know anything about this diet blog. The diet blog didn’t know about the non-diet blog. And vice versa. So it was just keeping all these ridiculous secrets. But that’s just the way I felt at the time. Even though it seems quite strange to me now that I felt that way.

Correspondent: Interesting. I want to actually talk about this notion of self-esteem. I mean, you were fighting, I think, esteem issues on multiple fronts. You had the weight loss and the job scenario and the unemployment. How much do you feel that, for example, your employment history and your employment scenarios tied into the obstacle of losing weight? You point out that staying busy at work “didn’t give you time to think about Kit-Kats and hamburgers and your general state of fatness.” And I’m curious. When did you detect these particular connections? Or by compartmentalizing them, as you indicate in your last answer, this was a way for you to tie all the various threads together.

Reid: Yeah, I think the more I tried to compartmentalize everything, the more I realized they were all connected. And it was pointless for me to try and separate everything. Because one issue rolled into another. Staying busy at work, like I said. Not thinking about Kit-Kats. And then when things got really stressful at work, I would find myself reaching for the Kit-Kats. So it’s all quite a big mess, I think, in the end. It’s not possible. I think I kept it up for about five years — these two separate identities and everything. But in the end, I think when I finally came out of the closet and stopped trying to hide parts of my personality from other people, that’s when I did tackle all of the problems and come out of the other side.

Correspondent: But coming out of the closet now, you’re also dealing with a scenario in which, well, how much do I keep privately to myself? How many of my identities do I compartmentalize? I mean, for all I know, you could have a secret blog somewhere about some other pressing issue that I don’t know about and nobody else knows about. So what is this relationship between the private and the public? Are you done compartmentalizing things at the present time?

Reid: Oh yeah. I’m totally over that now. I don’t feel the need to do that anymore.

Correspondent: Just a phase.

Reid:: Yeah, a very lengthy phase. But the book’s out now. It’s been out for over a year. The most raw, down, dark moments of my life are captured forever in that book. But I do feel a certain detachment from that time in my life now. Because writing about it is a good way of tying up all those loose ends in my own head.

BSS #262: Shauna Reid (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: David Denby

David Denby recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #261.

David Denby is most recently the author of Snark.

Please also see our lengthy essay, in response to Adam Sternbergh’s review. This conversation represents an effort to get Denby to answer questions raised by both pieces.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Ordered against using a snarky tone.

Author: David Denby

Subjects Discussed: Whether or not Denby feels battered, unsuccessful attempts to pinpoint the definition of snark, the club of the clued-in, newspapers and narratives, Denby’s reservations about the Web and decentralization, snark’s relationship to voice, Sturgeon’s law, panic in mainstream journalism, satire and a corresponding set of virtues by implication, prototypical voice, the Sarah Palin prank, Spy, contempt for New York celebrities vs. contempt for money and power, investigative reporting and the Web, peer-to-peer journalism, Josh Marshall and the attorney scandal, Private Eye, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the need to take sacred cows to task, Pitchfork, “Ugandan discussions,” endearing jargon vs. in-the-know references, why Denby doesn’t find Gawker and Wonkette funny, fickle public memory and disappearing websites, Perez Hilton at 40, fighting slander, accounting for corrective impulses on the Web, privacy as a bourgeois triumph, whether or not Denby can truly have an informed opinion on Twitter if he’s never used it, quibbling with Denby’s uniform assessments of mediums, accounting for the visual innovations of Spy Magazine, the visual notion of snark, Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter, circumstances in which being ruthless towards someone is okay, Mike Barnacle, nastiness and self-deprecation, Penn Jilette, snark practitioners as flip-floppers, Maureen Dowd, superfluous anger vs. righteous indignation, constructing a narrative in which you can locate yourself, Alcanter de Brahm’s irony symbol, Perez Hilton’s lack of anonymity, defending Tom Cruise, why photographers haven’t fought Perez Hilton, legal remedies, being dragged into the celebrity culture, and raising an army of thoughtful writers.


denbyCorrespondent: Let’s talk about this idea of trash talk vs. snark. You indicate in this book that it’s okay to have a vituperative remark or a savage wit, if there is a corresponding set of virtues. And, in fact, you say “a corresponding set of virtues by implication.” Now “implication,” I think, is the important word here. Because to go back to the Sternbergh review, I would argue, to defend him briefly, that he is attempting to point out that Television Without Pity and the snark tone that he champions — I mean, is there not a corresponding set of virtues perhaps that is in the initial stages? In the prototypical stages perhaps? I mean, don’t people have to start from somewhere before they reach this level of thought that you are advocating in this particular book?

Denby: Well, we don’t know, do we? But I don’t see much of that in Television Without Pity. Mostly, it seems to me, whenever I look, it’s enormously long plot summaries with a lot of snarky adjectives. And it’s fun. Because it’s like friends who gather at a house to watch a TV show, and you compete with one another to see who can be funnier. But I would forgive them everything if they jumped up and down with joy when something original and difficult came out. Like in their movie stuff, I don’t notice them celebrating There Will Be Blood or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. What gets their jets going is trash like Bride Wars. In other words, they’re invested in trash. And that’s why I say that these people are really thugs of the conglomerate in a way. In other words, they’re part of the commercial system. They’re not really interested in anything adversary. For all of their nasty tone, they’re part of the commercial system. They’re not adversarial at all. They don’t push the little guy — you know, the protest against the system or the artistic revolutionary. That’s not what they’re into. They’re into fandom. Now let me come back to Sternbergh.

Correspondent: But also to point out the initial thrust of this question. As a prototypical model, for some people, snark is the way to get to this more virtuous plane that you’re advocating here.

Denby: Well, I hope you’re right. And maybe they’ll just…

Correspondent: I can say this from experience. Because I was a little snarky when I started writing.

Denby: But people get older and they realize that I’m not pushing my weight. That this is too easy.

Correspondent: Yeah. Jessica Coen, who ended up going from Gawker to New York Magazine. She wrote an essay. I’m sure you’re familiar with this. You don’t quote it in the book. But I’m sure in the course of your research, you found it out. She pointed to the negative feelings that she had, and she wanted to go to this more thoughtful plane.

Denby: Right.

Correspondent: So I’m saying that perhaps, maybe, instead of essentially fanning the flames of discontent against this type, it’s steering them in the right direction. Which you do do in this book. Maybe this is just a growing stage before they blossom into some writer of virtue.

Denby: Well, that would be nice. Also, I think they’re naive if they think that they can make a whole professional career out of this. Because you cannot underestimate the ruthlessness of editors. In other words, this is something that Adam Sternbergh doesn’t know. That his kind of wise guy stuff pales very quickly. And when styles of humor change, editors get rid of you if you don’t keep up. So there can be something naive. It’s a way of gaining a professional foothold. But you’ve got to move beyond it pretty fast. But just to return to Sternbergh, as I remember, the main thrust of his critique was that snark is an appropriate response to a corrupt and dishonorable world. Well, I’m not going to argue with his characterization. I think it is a corrupt and dishonorable world. But the appropriate response to it is not snark. The appropriate response to it is criticism, analysis, and, best of all, satire. Which is what I praise over and over again. The kind of stuff that Stewart and Colbert do. Most of snark is weak. It’s mostly impotent. It’s more a confession of defeat than an appropriate response to anything. I mean, he’s way off on that.

Correspondent: Okay, well, to look at this question of prototypical voice from a different vantage point, you suggest that Philip Weiss’s infamous Spy article, in which he infiltrated Bohemian Grove “discovered only where power hung out and what its vulgar habits are.”

Denby: Yeah, who took a pee where?

Correspondent: Yeah. But if we are to discount this article as nothing more than an amusing prank, I point to the Quebec comedy duo who revealed Sarah Palin’s lack of qualifications with this wonderful prank. And while their particular tone may not have been thoughtful or political, it did lead to people rethinking Sarah Palin’s qualifications.

Denby: Absolutely.

Correspondent: Isn’t there something to be said about how people react to a particular prank or an act? Or how people run with the ball of, say, the Bohemian Grove scenario? And try to investigate it further? I mean, that’s what thought is.

Denby: Yeah, but that’s what Spy never did. I mean, it kept promising more than it delivered. The Sarah Palin prank was brilliant. And that she didn’t catch on for, what was it? Ten minutes? They had her going. It’s just astounding. But the trouble with Spy was that it never did investigative reporting. It did a kind of junior league infiltration of the powerful, rather than the hard work of going to the library and looking up records, and so on and so forth. That true investigative reporting requires before you can nail someone in dishonest behavior or corrupt behavior or collusive behavior. So it never actually delivered. And since it was written basically for people who wanted to join the money….

Random Stranger Shouting Into Mike (Presumably Disenfanchised): Wha…what?

Denby: (to Stranger) Thank you. That was good.

Stranger: You’re welcome.

(Photo credit: Casey Kelbaugh)

BSS #261: David Denby (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Allison Amend

Allison Amend most recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #256.

Allison Amend is the author of Things That Pass for Love.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering the troubling things that pass for love.

Author: Allison Amend

Subjects Discussed: Dealings with the Atlantic Monthly, what constitutes a proper golf story, miniature golf, how Jewishness and faith relates to sustaining a narrative, speaking multiple languages, Pig Latin, the connotations of “molested,” small animals in short stories, whether an author should be concerned about manipulating the reader, grabbing the interviewer by the beard, discovering stories through subconscious intent, stories that “need more gerbil,” writing stories that run counter to an innate perspective, verisimilitude, magical realism, whether multifarious themes and motifs disguise the primary premise of a story, the narrative complexities of romantic intimacy, avoiding the “chick lit” label, Curtis Sittenfeld, the Glimmer Train essay, Amend’s two unpublished novels, dealing with potential editors who issue demands to include a love story, how much one should compromise for art, authenticity vs. marketability, frequent appearances of Zima within Amend’s stories, authors who include brand names in fiction, experimenting with lists and found documents, planning the endings of stories, selecting stories for the collection, and thematic unity.


Correspondent: Golf figures prominently into a number of these stories. In “How Much Greater the Miracle,” you write, “The soul and golf are interrelated. I try not to wax too philosophical, but the soul is like a golf ball.” Now is this particular statement one of the reasons you frequently return to golf in your writing? Do you feel that golf gets a bad rap? Is this your way of essentially taking it, or absconding it, from the upper-class country club associations? Are you trying to counter the John Updike/Richard Ford/Kevin Costner kind of approach to golf? I think this is a very important question!

Amend: Sure, sure. I think that your answer is much better than the one I’m going to give you.

Correspondent: No, I’m sure your answer is going to be fantastic.

Amend: Which is that back when I was in grad school, Michael Curtis, who edits the fiction for the Atlantic Monthly, requested some golf stories. He was editing the fiction section of Golf Digest.

Correspondent: Oh wow.

Amend: And he needed some golf stories. So I was like, “I can write a golf story.” And he said, “Oh, it’s very good. I don’t want it. But it’s a good story.” And I said, “Thank you. I’ll write another one.” So I wrote another golf story.

Correspondent: Aha!

Amend: He said, “I don’t want this either. But I like your writing.” So I wrote one more just to see. But actually I do really like golf as a literary theme. Because, first of all, it’s something for your characters to do without really having to have them do a lot of business. So everyone knows how you play. I mean, everyone sort of knows the theory of golf. You hit a ball towards a hole. And so your characters can talk a lot and can think about things without — it’s not like it’s basketball, where you have to describe the reaction all the time. So I really like golf that way. But also it’s this really absurd game. I played a lot when I was younger and don’t play so much now. But if you told me that you can’t see there’s a hole about the size of your palm and you can’t see it from here. But if you hit the ball three times, you will hit it in the hole. I would never have believed it.

Correspondent: Now you say that you had had golf experience before when you had been asked to do these stories. Or did you have to go into golf again and do a refresher course so to speak? Or a refresher run?

Amend: Well, I was at Iowa. We had a lot of free time.

Correspondent: Okay. They have golf in Iowa.

Amend: They do have golf in Iowa. And it’s actually pretty accessible. There’s a great municipal golf course. A nine hole golf course. And so I actually played a decent round of golf. But mostly I just asked my parents. They are very into golf. And so when I needed some golf details to make the story seem more authentic, I just asked them. I said, “What do you do if the ball’s on the side of a hill?” And my dad’s like, “Well, you hit down on it obviously.” I’m like, “Oh, of course.” And I’m taking notes as I’m talking to them. So that was my golf experience.

Correspondent: But this is an interesting notion of what a golf story is.

Amend: Right.

Correspondent: Because if one plays golf, it’s automatically a golf story? Or golf happens to be a motif? I mean, how golf-intensive does a golf story have to be?

Amend: You know, I don’t know. I don’t think that the golf story is going to be the next hot genre. Although there is the golf novel that does pretty well — apparently every year. But for me, it’s just a story where I have to ask my parents a lot of questions about golf to write it. So to me, that’s a golf story.

Correspondent: I’m just wondering if there’s any golf criteria for a golf story. I’ve never been asked to write a golf story. And I’ve never actually considered, until we just talked about this subject, about what a golf story entails. And so I’m wondering. Maybe it’s like a Christmas story.

Amend: It just has to be some Christmas.

Correspondent: Yeah, I don’t know.

Amend: Yeah, I think so. I’m not sure that I’m the best person to ask, since none of my stories were accepted for Golf Digest.

Correspondent: But they’re in here! There’s like three golf stories in here.

Amend: But they’re in there. In which case, golf is sort of a theme.

Correspondent: Yeah! So you are a golf story person.

Amend: Apparently, I’m a golf story person.

Correspondent: Among many other things. Well, okay.

Amend: Well, I could be. I’ve been called worse.

BSS #256: Allison Amend (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Nacho Vigalondo

Nacho Vigalondo appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #254. Vigalondo is a filmmaker who is most recently the writer and director of Timecrimes, a film that opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 12.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for future Bats.

Guest: Nacho Vigalondo

Subjects Discussed: What to expect when attending one’s first press day in New York, being isolated from the Hollywood scene by making films in Spain, unexpected attention, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, the current speed in adapting comic books, Mark Millar, the Timecrimes remake, the pink bandaged head as an old Universal Horror motif, finding the monster within the movie, writing a script out of sequence, Steven Zaillian, trying not to bore the audience, showing the ridiculous side of the situation, using the best bits of Karra Elejalde’s cinematic career for the different Hectors, the influence of fashion choices upon performance, making a movie work in a natural way, the criticism of “improvisation,” criticizing the reasons behind Chica’s nudity, not explaining everything within a movie, the tendency for music to blare throughout every environment, learning from Hitchcock, practical locations vs. planned sets, and making a timeless movie.


nacho-vigalondoVigalondo: When you’re writing a script, sometimes the script is put into a nightmare. Sometimes, it’s giving you some gift. And in this case, when I was writing Timecrimes, I found a monster inside the story. But the story itself gave me the monster. I needed someone with a hidden face, with a scissors on the hand. So I found out that the story was building a monster. A monster that had these classical resonances, as you are telling. So I feel so fortunate. Because when you have a monster in your movie, the movie gets better most of the time. Every movie with a monster is better than the same story without the monster. You can apply this to all the other — to every example. I don’t know. If Million Dollar Baby had a monster, it would be a better film.

Once you find a monster inside your film, well, in my case, it’s something you have to celebrate. For two reasons. It’s a monster that sounds like a Universal classic film monster. And at the same time, it’s a pretty cheap Halloween costume. If the people like your film, they can disguise as the big mummy with little money on the bandages and the scissors. So if you want to dress like Freddy Krueger, it’s more expensive than my monster in my film. So it’s like giving something to the people. In depression times, giving cheap monsters to the people is something I really appreciate. (laughs)

BSS #254: Nacho Vigalondo (Download MP3)

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Bat Segundo DVDs Now On Sale!

We’ve received a few requests from listeners asking us how they can get DVD-ROMs of the show. And since Christmas shopping has started, and some of you out there may be on the lookout for a literary stocking stuffer, we’ve decided to begin offering DVD-ROMs of the first 250 shows of The Bat Segundo Show at the very affordable price of $50. (Shows #249 and #250 will be coming online very soon.) For just 20 cents per episode, you’ll be able to experience more than 200 hours of the oddest cultural conversations that can be found on the Internet.

This three DVD set features all programs produced from October 2004 to the present day.

Disc One: Includes interviews with Jonathan Ames, Bret Easton Ellis, T.C. Boyle, Octavia Butler, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Elliott, William T. Vollmann, Erica Jong, Tom Tomorrow, Sarah Waters, Colson Whitehead, John Updike, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeff VanderMeer, Robert Birnbaum, Daniel Handler, Alison Bechdel, Tommy Chong, Nora Ephron, Scott Smith, Richard Dawkins, Mark Z. Danielewski, Edward P. Jones, Mary Gaitskill, Kelly Link, Francine Prose, Kate Atkinson, Claire Messud, Simon Winchester, Amy Sedaris, Nina Hartley, Richard Ford, Christopher Moore, Heidi Julavits, Neal Pollack, Tayari Jones, and David Lynch.

Disc Two: Includes interviews with Martin Amis, Ron Jeremy, China Mieville, Tao Lin, Lionel Shriver, A.M. Homes, Scarlett Thomas, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Shteyngart, Richard Flanagan, Katie Roiphe, William Gibson, Marianne Wiggins, Gabe Kaplan, Rupert Thomson, George Saunders, Naomi Klein, Chimamanda Adichie, Steven Pinker, Naomi Wolf, James Lipton, Oliver Sacks, Richard Russo, Tom McCarthy, Andrea Barrett, Will Self, Stewart O’Nan, David Rakoff, Sue Miller, Charles Burns, Steve Erickson, Chip Kidd, Bill Plympton, Michio Kaku, Jennifer Weiner, Richard Price, and Nicholson Baker.

Disc Three: Includes interviews with Mark Sarvas, Errol Morris, Sarah Hall, David Hajdu, Tobias Wolff, Sloane Crosley, Cynthia Ozick, Ed Park, Fiona Maazel, Steven Greenhouse, Ralph Bakshi, Mort Walker, Rachel Shukert, Andre Dubus III, Thomas Disch, Grandmaster Flash, Nam Le, Sen. Mike Gravel, Ethan Canin, Jenny Davidson, Paul Auster, Brent Spiner, Bonnie Tyler, Mike Leigh, Marilynne Robinson, Charlie Kaufman, Neal Stephenson, and David Rees.

Episodes will still be available for free download. But with the purchase of this three DVD set, you’ll be helping us tremendously to continue producing the show, and you’ll save yourself a considerable amount of time downloading them all at home. Particularly if you have dial-up.

The price includes shipping. Please note that all shipments are being sent by FedEx Express Saver to ensure a reasonable delivery time that we can track, and, due to costs, we are currently limiting delivery to the United States. If, however, you’re based outside the States, email me and we’ll work something out.

If there’s enough interest, then we’ll be unloading some additional merchandise, including iPods that have the shows already loaded. But for now, we wanted to offer an affordable way for you to get the shows all in one burst. And if you act swiftly, and you foresee a good deal of commuting time for your Thanksgiving holiday, then we can get the DVDs to you before the turkey is carved.

The Bat Segundo Show: David Rees

Just in time for Election Day! David Rees appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #248. Rees is most recently the author of Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror: 2001-2008.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Struggling to cast his vote.

Author: David Rees

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: I wanted to also ask about the use of white space, and often the lack of white space, with some of the panels that have this extraordinarily long rant that one of the characters is conducting versus using the clip art and shifting it to the right hard edge of the panel or the left hard edge of the panel, or what not. What is your criteria in terms of white space and filling up the panel? Is it contingent upon the words you have to deliver for any particular strip?

Rees: You probably don’t know this, but the U.S. government allots all political cartoonists a given amount of white space in a year, and a lot of budgetary issues. If you don’t use your white space in a year, you don’t get it back the following year. There’s no rollover white space.

Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, it’s the appropriations and the earmarks I’ve heard.

Rees: So you have to really challenge yourself every year to use just enough white space, so that they’ll give you more white space next year. You have to submit this form. A white space form. Form JKL-202. And you submit this form. And they will give you more white space. And so as a political cartoonist — I mean, if you’re registered with the government, which I am, which all political cartoonists are supposed to be, if you find yourself at the end of the year that you haven’t used enough white space, then you go on a big rant. So there isn’t much white space around. You know what I mean?

Correspondent: Sure. Sure.

Rees: Because you don’t want to go over your limit immediately. Because you’ll be penalized.

Correspondent: But with all the “fucks” within the rant, that can be very problematic. I know you’ve gotten into trouble based off of that. Because of the specific requirements of this act.

Rees: Right. You’re referring to the Left Wing Political Cartoonists Profanity Allotment Act of 2003?

Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, I am. The number of “fucks” are quite frenetic. Exactly.

Rees: Well, I trade on the gray market. I trade — you know, cap and trade with carbon emissions? They set up the same thing for cartoonists, where you get a given amount of profanity. Fuck, goddam, asshole, shit, cocksucker, bitch, all that stuff. And then if you want to use more, you buy a set on the International Profanity Market. You buy a certain amount from other cartoonists.

Correspondent: They come in 200 units, I think.

Rees: Right. Well, it’s 200 syllables. You don’t actually buy the profanity by the word. You buy it by the syllable. So “motherfucker” is four syllables. You can use those four syllables to deploy one “motherfucker” or four “asses.” So I usually just buy them from cartoonists like Bil Keane, who does The Family Circus. He never uses his allotment. In a year, he never says “fuck” in The Family Circus more than ten times. So I will buy him out usually at the beginning of the year, so that I have enough to get me through a season.

BSS #248: David Rees (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Alec Foege

Alec Foege appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #246. Foege is most recently the author of Right of the Dial.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Defying the maker of rules and dealing with fools.

Author: Alec Foege

Subjects Discussed: WINZ switching to Air America because of Fahrenheit 9/11‘s success, Jesse Jackson and Keep Hope Alive, profitability vs. integrity, Clear Channel’s Republican viewpoint, conservative talk radio and profitability, Rush Limbaugh, Clear Channel executives as better money managers, the Mays family approaching radio from a profit standpoint, the apolitical realities of financial mismanagement, voice tracking as a cost-cutting measure, the public radio bailout, pre-scripted radio conversation and the lack of spontaneity, Clear Channel’s Walmart approach to radio, the decline in radio advertising courtesy of the economic downturn, Clear Channel selling off stations in 2008 to survive, the self-correcting market impulse, how radio caused a San Francisco Franz Ferdinand concert with only a few hundred people showed up, Girl Talk and the Internet as an alternative marketing device, the few slots on radio playlists, Gnarls Barkley and Internet-based rock stars, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and the “pay what you what” mentality, satellite radio, the online advantages of local radio, payola, record labels paying radio stations, free market opportunities opened up by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Howard Stern on David Letterman, Clear Channel buying Inside Radio and thus buying criticism, the FCC, and the future of radio.


Correspondent: I wanted to ask you about the subject of payola, which comes up multiple times in this book. Eliot Spitzer is, of course, unfortunately now out of the game. But he did do some good things, such as investigating the relationship between the promoters and the radio conglomerates. One of the most condemning documents revealing Clear Channel’s “pay for play” policy was when an email from Sony’s Epic label basically asked, “What do I have to do to get Audioslave on WKSS this week? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen.” Now there was extraordinary payola in all these instances. Sometimes as much as $400,000. But if you are a promoter, you are always going to have to deal with payola on some level. Whether it’s a fruit basket. Whether it’s a free CD. I mean, what is the maximum level of what we might call payola? Inarguably, I bought you this coffee that you’re enjoying right now. So are you perhaps — is this payola? I don’t know.

Foege: Well, it’s good that you just disclosed it.

Correspondent: Yes!

Foege: That’s a step in the right direction. And I guess I didn’t explicitly state that I wouldn’t talk with you if you didn’t buy me a cup of coffee. And I did offer to pay for the cup of coffee as well. You know, the funny thing about payola is that it’s existed since the beginning of radio. I mean, radio has traditionally been a pretty dirty business. It was before Clear Channel existed. It continues to be. A lot of people in the business that I spoke to said payola always exists in some form. Every once in a while, it emerges into the public sphere. And somebody like Eliot Spitzer comes along and tries to have some effect on it. But for whatever reason, people trend back to their bad habits again. And the corruption begins again. The interesting thing about payola is that I think, particularly in the modern era, it’s had a very insidious effect on radio. Because one could argue that it’s not good for radio stations and radio companies. Sure, there are payments involved. But as Clear Channel was wont to argue, when it was sort of caught up in all this, even with the large sums that you mentioned, if you look at the total revenue that Clear Channel now brings in, those are hardly numbers that would matter to them overall.

But the insidiousness comes in the fact that, first of all, ostensibly radio stations are attracting listeners with songs and music that they want to hear. Of course, payola tips that scale and simply has people at record labels paying to get particular artists and songs on the air, whether people want to hear them or not. Or whether there’s any criteria other than the payment to get them on. So arguably, you could say that radio stations can lose listeners if they’re embroiled in payola. And it’s just crappy music that nobody likes. Which certainly has come up in the past.

The other thing is, obviously, payola hurts artists. And in combination with all the other tactics that Clear Channel employed, as it got larger, to cut costs and to streamline their overall operation, payola was yet another part of the equation that essentially cut out most emerging artists. Because how could they compete against songs that were simply on the air because people were getting paid off.

The only interesting thing about this is that payola is a very difficult crime to explain to the average person. Because, of course, some variations on what payola is exist in different kinds of venues. A classic example is when you walk into a supermarket, and you see a big pile of Rice Krispies up at the front of the row.

Correspondent: Yeah. Co-op.

Foege: Few people realize that Kellogg’s paid to have that stack put there. And that also happens to not be illegal. The reason that it’s illegal when it comes to radio is because radio, through the FCC, has a federal mandate. The airwaves are owned by the public. So this is a corruption of the public’s airwaves when these payments are made. And so that’s where the crime is involved. Because there’s an acknowledgment there that mass media, because of its power and influence, is different from boxes of Rice Krispies at the supermarket.

BSS #246: Alec Foege (Download MP3)

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