The Bat Segundo Show: Paul Murray, Part Two

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On December 5, 2010, the Irish novelist Paul Murray encountered one of Mr. Segundo’s many agents before a full audience at Word Brooklyn. The two gentlemen proceeded to talk, with smart audience interjection and Mr. Murray reading from the book, for a little under 90 minutes. Just as the tape ran out, the very patient Word Brooklyn staff wisely put an end to this gabfest. The two gentlemen had no idea they had rambled on for so long. From all reports, neither did the crowd.

The first part of this conversation is now available for your listening pleasure as The Bat Segundo Show #370 (also referred to as “Phyllis Presents,” for reasons known only to those possessing the appropriate handbook). It is about 41 minutes long and involves the initial Q&A between Mr. Murray and our most mysterious agent.

The second part of this conversation is now available for your listening pleasure as The Bat Segundo Show #371 (which does not possess any alternate name, we are sorry to report). It is about 38 minutes long and features Mr. Murray reading from his latest novel, Skippy Dies, along with further questions from our agent (and many from the crowd). If you listen carefully to this second part, you may be able to detect a broken haiku.

The producers wish to thank Brian Gittis, Stephanie Anderson, Jenn Northington, Sarah Weinman, and (of course) Paul Murray for their great assistance (much of it at the last minute) in making this special conversation happen. We hope to offer similar “live” conversations in the future.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Recoiling from the pleasures of being applauded by a recorded audience.

Author: Paul Murray

Subjects Discussed: The origins of Bethani, the original length of Skippy Dies, storylines cut from Skippy Dies, the narrative need for an adult ballast, the importance of the school as a microcosm, Infinite Jest, open-ended narratives, tradeoffs, the impossibility of second-guessing an audience, Roland Barthes, cartoon sex, absurd editorial exchanges concerning the physicality of mermaids, balancing gender perspective, getting Lori’s emotions right, Catholic schoolboys, amoral characters and teenage beauty, authentic teen voices, requests for a “director’s cut” of Skippy Dies, trying to find uses for scrapped material, when descriptive “transplants” don’t work in revision, and the importance of listening to editors.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Murray: I didn’t want it to be an Infinite Jest level narrative. I think that might have had its day, in fact. That sort of completely open-ended narrative structure. Because once you read Infinite Jest and you get to the end of 1,000 pages and realize he’s not going to tie it all up. Sorry to anyone who hasn’t read the book. The butler did it. That in itself is not quite a gimmick. But it’s a device. And it’s a device that people will get bored of. So you need to find new ways. Roland Barthes, who I read a lot unapologetically, he talks a lot about, “If you destroy something. If you try and destroy something, it just comes back.” Like you just sort of preserve the dialectic. So what you need to do is subvert it by making fun of it or just twisting things and tweaking things. I guess that’s what I was trying to do with the book. I really like — I watch tons of — far too many movies and TV programs and stuff. So I wasn’t coming at it with some kind of Puritanical urge to — like an Alain Robbe-Grillet sense of “I puke on the novel.” I wanted it to be a story that some of the people would enjoy. So yeah, it does look like a lot of elements. It’s got characters and it’s got jokes. It’s got plot twists and stuff. I would argue that it doesn’t work in a sort of three-part type of way. Because Skippy dies at the beginning. And then it tracks back. The first two parts are tracking back. What happened to him. And then the last part is just dealing with the effects of his death. So it is kind of chronological. Quite weird.

Correspondent: Well, what do you trade off when you are writing for the audience like this? Are there certain areas that you went into further? Because the book is very candid about the teenage lifestyle. And drugs and sex and things like that. Did you go further in this earlier draft? Were there things that were perhaps just too off-putting for the audience that you were seeking? I’m just curious.

Murray: I genuinely would try and avoid — I mean, if you start thinking of your audience, then it’s impossible to second-guess an audience. Because people react in ways that you can never imagine. So you’re on a losing streak with that. And also you’ll just freeze up if you start worrying about what people will think. So I tried to avoid doing that. That said, I did have more extreme things happening in earlier drafts. And I think it was because it was hard to gauge the right level of shockingness. And it wasn’t that I wanted to shock people. It was more that I was worried about censoring myself. I was worried that the editors won’t like this scene. So I’m going to leave it in there! Which is a very stupid way of writing a book. But that’s what I did.

For instance, the Bethani character, who writes a lot of these strange porno songs. There were more of those than there needed to be initially. And there’s a very disturbed character called Carl. His stuff was initially — there’s a bit where Carl is at home looking at porn on the Internet and he seems to be looking at this toon porn, which is characters from Disney — Pocahantas and the Little Mermaid, Snow White and so forth — having sense with various other toons. Smurfs having sex.

Correspondent: Imagination or research into this?

Murray: Uh, no comment. But there was a humorous exchange with the publishers. With Penguin. Because initially they were saying, “I think Disney may have copyright on these. So we’re going to have to write to them and say is it okay?”

Audience and Correspondent: (laughs)

Murray: Okay, I don’t know if they’ll go for that. But it turns out.

Correspondent: Did you get any yeses? Yes, it’s perfectly okay for a Snow White and a dwarf 69. Or something.

Murray: (laughs) You know that site!

Correspondent: No, I…no comment!

Murray: That’s one frisky dwarf.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Murray: No, but it turned out that it was legal. It was okay. The Penguin legal department checked this out. It was fine. You could use those references. But there was another bit. A Penguin editorial assistant, who is a very nice and lovely girl called Anna Kelly, said, “You have Pocahontas giving a lickout to the Little Mermaid.”

Correspondent: (laughs)

Murray: “Physiologically, that’s not actually possible.”

Audience and Correspondent: (laughs)

Correspondent: Your imagination then!

Murray: “Dear Anna: Thank you so much for that.” So if you know anything about the English publishing industry, then you know it’s run by these very sweet, very polite women. And so there’s this humungously embarrassing email conversation back and forth. “Maybe we should have the Little Mermaid giving a lickout to Pocahantas.”

Audience and Correspondent: (laughs)

Murray: “Oh! That seems like the best solution!”

Audience and Correspondent: (laughs)

Correspondent: Oh boy. Anybody have a question to follow that up with?

The Bat Segundo Show #371: Paul Murray, Part Two (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Paul Murray, Part One

Play

On December 5, 2010, the Irish novelist Paul Murray encountered one of Mr. Segundo’s many agents before a full audience at Word Brooklyn. The two gentlemen proceeded to talk, with smart audience interjection and Mr. Murray reading from the book, for a little under 90 minutes. Just as the tape ran out, the very patient Word Brooklyn staff wisely put an end to this gabfest. The two gentlemen had no idea they had rambled on for so long. From all reports, neither did the crowd.

The first part of this conversation is now available for your listening pleasure as The Bat Segundo Show #370 (also referred to as “Phyllis Presents,” for reasons known only to those possessing the appropriate handbook). It is about 41 minutes long and involves the initial Q&A between Mr. Murray and our most mysterious agent.

The second part of this conversation is now available for your listening pleasure as The Bat Segundo Show #371 (which does not possess any alternate name, we are sorry to report). It is about 38 minutes long and features Mr. Murray reading from his latest novel, Skippy Dies, along with further questions from our agent (and many from the crowd). If you listen carefully to this second part, you may be able to detect a broken haiku.

The producers wish to thank Brian Gittis, Stephanie Anderson, Jenn Northington, Sarah Weinman, and (of course) Paul Murray for their great assistance (much of it at the last minute) in making this special conversation happen. We hope to offer similar “live” conversations in the future.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Recoiling from the pleasures of being applauded by a recorded audience.

Author: Paul Murray

Subjects Discussed: The influence of cinema, Gene Tierney, Glengarry Glenn Ross, the “Intelligent Eye” system, constructing a soundtrack for life, characters who flee reality, Anthony Lane and the Beijing Olympics, the camera increasingly pervading existence, Murray’s hero worship of David Lynch, balancing audience demand for traditional logic with shocking character revelation, Twin Peaks, not making sense as a bold aesthetic move, David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, Lynch vs. Pynchon, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, excavating the old in the quest for new fiction, Tristram Shandy, the importance of having a big nose, gutting from reality, Russell Hoban’s “feeling unreal is an essential part of reality,” mid-century Irish naturalistic writers, Irish fiction’s failure to interrogate modernity, video games as a teenage refuge, gamebooks of the 1980s, the Walkman as a shift in the way we perceive reality, The Legend of Zelda, Team Fortress 2, Shigeru Miyamoto, computer games and narcissism, Skippy Dies‘s slips into second person, the frustrations with maintaining a dimwit first-person perspective in An Evening of Long Goodbyes, the Celtic Tiger, writers and bank statements, the unexpected rise of phones in Ireland, lattes in Ireland, working in a cafe without comprehending focaccia, Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches, ineffectual use of outdoor jacuzzis in Ireland, property fairs, Robert Graves and the Great War, Gallipoli, World War I Irish involvement erased from the history books, the Church and child abuse, Michael Durbin of The Irish Times, derivatives, and whether the novelist is guilty in ignoring certain narratives while coating reality within a fantasy.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Murray: It needed to be structured in a way that wasn’t linear and that wasn’t naturalistic. Because I just don’t think like that. I wasn’t trying to be experimental. I just thought that, if you are a kid nowadays, your life is not very linear and it’s not very naturalistic. Because you’ll spend most of your time looking at your phone or looking at a screen. Or watching the TV. You’re very rarely actually where you are. Do you know what I mean? I guess maybe that’s part of the human condition. Never to be actually tuned into what’s around you. But it seems like the whole thrust of the 21st century is just to take us further and further and further away from where we are. And further away into strange digital fantasies.

Correspondent: And this probably explains why so much of Skippy is about this meshing between reality and fantasy. That, in your efforts possibly to examine life with these delimiting technological factors, you’re saying that it led inevitably to this blur between reality and fantasy?

Murray: Yeah, I think that’s what you do when you’re a kid. As I say, when I was a kid, there was no Internet. And computer games — I wasn’t quite Pong era.

Correspondent: Asteroids maybe.

Murray: Yeah. But I think the teenage — the way you kind of cope with the stresses of being a teenager is to take refuge in TV shows or films or computer games. Like I was really into those — well, I wasn’t into role playing. But there were these gamebook things.

Correspondent: Oh yeah.

Murray: Where you rolled the dice and fought orcs.

Correspondent: Yeah. Like the Lone Wolf books?

Murray: Yeah! Yeah! Totally!

Correspondent: I totally played those. They were great.

Murray: Don’t tell anyone.

Correspondent: It’s on tape, I’m afraid.

Murray: Ah! Again with the orcs! Oh no! When are the orcs going to get along?

Correspondent: I know.

Murray: That’s what you do. You’re constantly — like when I was growing up, the Walkman arrived, you know? And I’m going to argue that the Walkman is a major shift in the way we perceive reality. Because for the first time, you can carry music around you. And you start narrating your life. Like the self-narration just shifts gear. Shifts higher up. And that kind of process is — as I say, what technology gives us is more and more elaborate ways of doing that. So the kids in the book, because they’re young and they’re afraid and they’re lost, they take refuge. The big example is Skippy. Skippy’s this fourteen year old, quite reclusive boy who is addictively playing this computer game. Kind of a Legend of Zelda-like computer game. And have you ever played?

Correspondent: Zelda? Yeah, yeah. That thing sucked too many hours out of my life.

Murray: Yeah, it’s crazy.

Correspondent: Now it’s Team Fortress 2. If we’re going to be professional.

Murray: Yeah?

Correspondent: Oh yeah. Oh god.

Murray: Okay. We can talk about this later.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Murray: I mean, I’m not a huge computer games player. But my brother had a — whatever the machine was to play Zelda.

Correspondent: NES.

Murray: And it’s the same guy. The same game designer. The guy who invented Donkey Kong back in the ’70s has now done Legend of Zelda. And he creates these incredible worlds that are so powerful and are like art forms in some ways. In the richness of detail and in the beauty of them. But they’re not like art forms in the fact that they don’t challenge your perception. They don’t challenge you as a person at all. They make you like the master of this world that you find yourself in. Which is like a really narcissistic kind of fantasy. And the kids lose themselves in these fantasies of control and power. You know, like the same way if you walk down the street and you’re listening to Tupac, you kind of imagine that you’re Tupac. And even if you’re fourteen and very small, if motherfuckers come at you, look out. So that’s what you’re doing. I guess the really obvious conceit of the book is that that’s what everybody’s doing these days. That as an adult, being an adult or being mature is less and less part of the adult experience. Instead, being old and adult is someone with more spending power who can buy better enhancers or escapes from reality. Part of the reason the world is so — I’m trying to say fucked — is because we feel less and less responsibility for the world around us. Instead we’re just fleeing into whatever Apple has just produced and for a thousand dollars.

The Bat Segundo Show #370: Paul Murray, Part One (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Cynthia Ozick II

Cynthia Ozick recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #368. Ms. Ozick is most recently the author of Foreign Bodies. She previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #210.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering why Henry James forces him to have alarming dreams.

Author: Cynthia Ozick

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Ozick: The joy of dialogue. Oh, dialogue! It took me such a long time how to learn how to do dialogue. And I think I learned it from a single book. Which is Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter. Which I actually studied to see how he made it concise and dramatic. And I think once you know the character, you have the voice. I suppose you could say that once you have the voice, you have the character. But I don’t think it works like that for me. Once you know the character, you can hear the character speak. And of course, they all speak in their own voices. I don’t know if that’s really related to music. I think that’s more related to seeing. Because you see the character. And if you see visually the character, then if I am looking at you, the voice that comes out of you is naturally yours. Because I see you. Whereas music is this mystery of mathematics. Including Confucius, music and math go together. And that’s a wonder about E.M. Forster. He’s one of the few writers who was very musical. I mean, seriously musical. And that’s in his writing as well. But I think the link with writing is more painting. We see this. It’s so interesting. John Updike had the ability to draw and write. So did Thackeray. Kipling. There are others. I can’t think of them now, but they’re so many linkages in writing and art. In other words, the pen and the eye. Whereas music is abstract math. So that’s where the voices come from. From the eye, I think.

Correspondent: It’s interesting that you mention Greene. Because of course, we know him for the colon. And in terms of looking at your dialogue in this book, what is rather interesting is that sometimes you have almost a Marianne Wiggins-like dash. And sometimes you have the quotes. I’m curious to the methodology behind that. How that developed.

Ozick: Well, that was pretty simple. I needed to have a dialogue in the historic present, so to speak. And dialogue before then. So for the earlier dialogue, I used the dash to distinguish it from the dialogue that’s occurring in the now. Even though the now is in the past tense. Because I have to confess. I have a lot of trouble with our common currency of present tense. Despite those great books of Rabbit [Angstrom]. I was once standing in a group of writers and was so humiliated. Because I mentioned my prejudice against writing in the present tense. And Updike was standing at my right elbow and said, “Well, my Rabbit books are in the present tense.” That was not a good moment. (laughs)

Correspondent: Well, why the aversion specifically to present tense? It’s used a lot more, I think, now than it was thirty years ago.

Ozick: Absolutely. It’s ubiquitous. I don’t know. It just seems that it spoils storytelling. Because it escapes from the magical “Once upon a time.” This happened once. If it’s happening now, then there’s almost no history in it. It destroys the past. And, of course, you see that writers who write in the present tense have to go back and deal with the past. You see that they then have to revert to past tense anyway. And it has a kind of inconsistency. And it’s simply unpleasant to me.

Correspondent: You’re saying that a novel really should present itself almost as a sense of history.

Ozick: Exactly. It’s a story that happened. Not a story that’s happening. And I guess that really needs to be explored. Why should a story that happened be better than a story that’s happening? I don’t know. Help me. Why?

Correspondent: Well, I think when you have a situation like — there was a book by Elliot Perlman called Seven Types of Ambiguity. Named, of course, after the great text. I mean, I like the book. But it has this really absurd situation because it’s written in the present tense. And the narrator’s going, “He’s hitting me.”* When I read this, I thought, “This is just utterly preposterous.” It immediately takes you out of the story.

Ozick: (laughs) Right!

Correspondent: If he “hit” him, right. But “He’s hitting me.” It’s like — wait a minute.

Ozick: Then how can you be writing?

Correspondent: How can I be participating in this? But with the past tense, you can feel a greater sense of participation in the activity.

Ozick: You can believe in it!

Correspondent: Yes!

Ozick: You can believe in it. I mean, it really helps the suspension of disbelief if you present it as a history. And isn’t this the beginning of the modern novel? My Man Friday?

Correspondent: (laughs)

Ozick: We’re supposed to believe that.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Ozick: And we do. Because it’s written like a history. No, I think you hit it when you said it has to do with history. And maybe that is a problem — if there is a problem — with much of American writing today. That it is rather amnesiac.

* — In all fairness to Mr. Perlman, I feel compelled to issue a slight correction. I told Ms. Ozick that I remembered the phrase “He’s hitting me” from Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity. It has been a good six years since I read Mr. Perlman’s book — sent to me with a handwritten note by Ami Greko, one of the few publicists back in the day to grasp the litblog medium that is now simultaneously ubiquitous and passe. But I can find no indication of the phrase “He’s hitting me” within Perlman’s book. Yet the specific passage I was trying to remember when Ms. Ozick put me on the spot, presented below and written in the present tense, does indeed reveal how the reader can be thrown off when violent gerunds are involved. It still reads as absurd and remains just as applicable to the conversation at hand. This funny little episode also reveals how a fatal expressive error can be misremembered years later, perhaps subject to the same “rather amnesiac” problem with American writing that Ms. Ozick mentions. Authors, take heed when using the present tense!

“I’m going to fucking kill you!” I scream at him. I am punching his face repeatedly, left then right again and again against the smooth stone paving and I am going to kill him. He is squeezing tighter. I am killing him. I am trying to kill him as Anna is pulling me off. She has her arms around my shoulders. She uses all her strength to drag me off him. (80, U.S. hardcover)

(Image: Zugoli Lany)

The Bat Segundo Show #368: Cynthia Ozick II (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Joseph Wallace

Joseph Wallace appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #336. Mr. Wallace is most recently the author of Diamond Ruby.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Replacing his failed Atkins diet with three square squirrel meals each day.

Author: Joseph Wallace

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: Radar guns were introduced in 1935 to measure a baseball’s speed. Before that, you had speed machines, which were increasingly rare. And as I understand it, there’s extremely little recorded information on pre-radar speed machines. In this book, Ruby looks at the machine in question, and you write, “To be honest, she couldn’t make head or tail of it.” This leads me to believe that there was some guesswork or confabulation upon your part.

Wallace: No. The only thing I didn’t know was exactly what — that’s a great question. In 1913, Baseball Magazine decided that they wanted to figure out how fast Walter Johnson and — I can’t remember, Matt. I can’t remember. Another pitcher. Walter Johnson pitched. But of course, that wasn’t so easy to do in 1913. So they went — in fact, as the book says, they went to the Remington Arms Company. And they said, “Help us out. We want to be able to do this.” The Remington Arms Company, in fact, has a device for measuring the speeds that bullets flew that was exactly the way I describe the speed machine here. Baseball Magazine — in fact, this is all completely accurate; it was one of those things that I found for a nonfiction book and loved and said, “Oh, I have to be able to use this somehow” — they ended up doing a fifteen page article that described and photographed the wire mesh that you had to throw the ball through. It was the simplest thing. You’d throw a baseball. It would brush through the mesh, which would register on the device. It would then hit a steel plate that was also wired to the device. They had the ability then to calculate the amount of time in between. And they knew the distance. And they could figure out how fast the ball was going. So they did this article. It was really, really hard for Walter Johnson, who was incredibly fast and incredibly accurate, to throw the ball through the wire mesh. So the only thing I changed from the original was that I made the mesh — the screen that Ruby and the people who are throwing the ball against her — bigger. Because if Walter Johnson had trouble getting it through, it would be really unfair to anybody other than Ruby.

It was a wonderful article. And my favorite thing about it was that, when I was researching the book, I went to the Remington Company and I said, “Tell me more.” And the Remington Company said, “We had never heard of this. We believe it exists. Here’s a historical forum where people talk about Remington’s history. Go to it.” And I went to it. And I posted. And I asked a bunch of questions about it. And people were so fascinated. And they’d seen the article. But none of them still exist. In other words, it’s a lost part of the Remington Arms Company’s history that they used to measure the speed of bullets.

Correspondent: They don’t keep very good records.

Wallace: They must not. I was very disappointed! So the answer is that it’s completely accurate. The only thing that wasn’t accurate, other than the size of the mesh, was the fact that the photographs of the machine itself don’t take you into the inner workings. So everything is accurate. Except I couldn’t describe how it worked inside. Because that wasn’t there. But I probably would not have been able to write the entire Coney Island part. This book — if there’s one article that’s the most important thing to this entire book, it’s the fact that in 1913, Baseball Magazine was smart enough. And, in fact, the same year, they decided to look into whether lengths of arms actually increased how fast you were. And there was a long article with all these shots — again, Walter Johnson, who had very long arms — standing there shirtless as they measured his wingspan versus other pitchers’ wingspans. So Baseball Magazine was this remarkably forward-thinking and clever magazine back in the 1910s.

Correspondent: Very conceptual, it sounds like.

Wallace: And extremely helpful to a writer like me! Who needed both long arms and the speed machine to make the book work.

(Image: Mary Reagan)

The Bat Segundo Show #336: Joseph Wallace (Download MP3)

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Great Fiction Not Written by White People

As Darby Dixon III has suggested, with the exception of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Dick Meyer’s list of great books written after 1900 has all the literary sensibilities of a grand wizard. To counter Meyer’s vanilla extract sensibilities, here’s a very hastily assembled list of great American fiction written after 1900 not written by white people. This is by no means an authoritative list. It pretty much came together in one mad mnemonic rush. I have also limited the list to one book per author. But all of these books have moved me or wowed me or otherwise floated my boat in some manner and are certainly worth your time. Please feel free to add more to the list in the comments.

Chimamanda Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
Octavia Butler, Kindred
Ana Castillo, The Mixquiahuala Letters
J. California Cooper, A Piece of Mine
Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine
Percival Everett, Glyph
Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying
Aleksandar Hemon, The Question of Bruno
Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Ha Jin, Waiting
Edward P. Jones, The Known World
Nam Le, The Boat
Chang-Rae Lee, Aloft
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress
John Okada, No-No Boy
Z.Z. Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
Susan Power, The Grass Dancer
Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo
Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
Zadie Smith, On Beauty
Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days
Richard Wright, Native Son

The Bat Segundo Show: Porochista Khakpour

Porochista Khakpour recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #249. Ms. Khakpour is the author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Avoiding the seemingly erudite man with the flamethrower.

Author: Porochista Khakpour

Subjects Discussed: Professional doodling, italics that represent facial expressions, acting out dialogue, the protracted difficulties of editing, the creative benefits of neurosis, thinking of an audience vs. writing in a distinct voice, maintaining lists of words, bulleted lists within the novel, the relationship between the equal sign and character consciousness, writing lengthy scenes that involve the anxiety of waiting, working from a journal to get at feelings within fiction, playing games in novels, aversion to mainstream narratives, the burden of universality, the novelist as an authoritarian figure, David Foster Wallace as a distinct author who reached a mass audience, “Good People,” the cycle of abuse that runs through Xerxes, missing daughters, how women relate to men, character names and explicit historical associations, the Americanization of Iranian names, truncated names, contrast and comparison with Sam and Suzanne, how 9/11 transformed the idea of looking at other people with an open mind into something else, relying on general descriptions for physical details, keeping specific details from the reader, how far an author must go for emotional truth, going against the contract of a book, the diminished acknowledgments section between hardcover and paperback, losing old friends, reading group questions, moving into an age where 9/11 novels are going to date, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and American diplomacy, and lucky timing with pub dates.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: So you actually added 10,000 words just in the editing process?

Khakpour: Yeah, I did.

Correspondent: Really?

Khakpour: Every time I edit. Everything. I have. Even with my journalism. They’ll tell me cut this piece down. And we’ll get to the editing phase. And I’ll always end up adding. Even when they tell me specifically, “Cut it down.” I don’t know what it is. Editing to me just means adding instead of cutting. It’s crazy.

Correspondent: Is it possible that perhaps you’re getting questions from an editor and this influx of information causes you to think more, and therefore causes any kind of piece or novel or whatever you write to expand and protract or the like?

Khakpour: Yeah. Probably, I think. I always think of my audience. And that person that I think of as my audience is very quiet and sits with their folded hands, and is very polite and approving.

Correspondent: Folded hands? I didn’t have my hands folded when I read this. I want to assure you.

Khakpour: (laughs) It’s a good somber schoolgirl.

Correspondent: Wow, I didn’t realize this.

Khakpour: Crossed legs. Very approving. (laughs)

Correspondent: There should have been an etiquette guide in the paperback here.

Khakpour: But then the minute the editor speaks up, I’m like, “Uh oh. This is a very intelligent human being who is not going to buy all my bullshit, is actually going to question me now.” And then I fall into super-neurotic mode. And that always means, well, not only am I going to think of this editor, but I’m going to think of all the other voices of dissent. All the people. And it goes from there. And so it just involves adding and adding and adding. To appease all the various voices in my head. (laughs)

Correspondent: Thinking about the audience then makes you more neurotic.

Khakpour: Overanticipating often. Yeah. I’m trying to tone that down right now.

Correspondent: That’s interesting. But then to a certain degree, you have to leave things relatively organic and intuitive, and you can’t think about an audience. It’s important to have gestation here. And I’m curious if this might possibly be an issue.

Khakpour: I think it is. I’m a control freak.

Correspondent: You want people to like you? Really, really like you?

Khakpour: Well, not even like me. But I like some control over how people are digesting my work. That’s ridiculous. But I think it also has to do with communication. And because English wasn’t my first language. I always feel like I repeat. I’m like Joe Biden. I’m often repeating the same thing over and over and over at people. “I got it the first time.” You know, there’s no need to say the same sentence over and over and over. But I always feel that people aren’t hearing me, or somehow don’t understand what I’m saying. So….

Correspondent: You know, I…

Khakpour: I think I’m going to have to back off now. I’m learning that.

Correspondent: I’ve heard that Nicholson Baker — what he does is that he Control-Fs a specific phrase throughout all of his work to make sure that he has not written that particular phrase before.

Khakpour: Oh, that’s great.

Correspondent: Do you have this level of detail?

Khakpour: I’ll do that with certain words. Because I’ll have certain words that are my favorite word of the moment. And I’ll still — I’ll do that thing that I did when I was a young immigrant. I used to keep a list of vocab words that I loved. And even now, there will be some word every once in a while on a little list by my desk. Like I like that word! Let’s use that word somewhere.

Correspondent: You actually have a list of words by your desk?

Khakpour: Yes, sometimes I do that.

Correspondent: The words I have to include in the book. Really?

Khakpour: Yeah. And they’re not like ten dollar words.

Correspondent: Okay.

Khakpour: Or hundred dollar words. But they’re just interesting or strange. Or words. Or unusual usages. I’m often very much tried to find the Find function or the Replace function. So I’ll have to double check and make sure I don’t use that word several times. But it’s usually on a word level there.

BSS #249: Porochista Khakpour (Download MP3)

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