From the monthly archives: May 2011

The Los Angeles based creators of  a weekly podcast called Hugs & Disses, which is a name I am informed they made up all by themselves, were kind enough to ask me on their program this week.  I traveled to their sumptuous headquarters in Echo Park where they somehow managed to cajole me into talking about myself for almost two hours. Can’t think of a single reason anyone wouldn’t want to hear that.

Apart from me, that is. On the list of things I don’t like to do, “listen to the sound of my own voice” is very high, somewhere near “look at pictures of myself” and “eat glass.”

But if you’re interested in hearing me talk about whatever we ended up talking about, including but not limited to my novels, Guided By Voices, films that I have written, and enema porn, you can go here and satisfy your curiosity. While there, you should be sure to subscribe to the podcast, because it’s a weekly deal, and I’m sure all of the other episodes in the series thus far are more interesting than the one featuring me. Many thanks to the H&D crew for extending the invitation.

Thanks to the discerning eye of guest editor (and very fine writer) Ben Loory, I have a very short story up over at SmokeLong, which is a place on the internet that publishes very short strories. My story is about elephants. That’s why there is a picture of a trunk at the top of this post. Get it? Do you? Are you sure? Go here to read the story.

First, I join the Los Angeles Review of Books as Contributing Editor. Next thing I know, James Franco is a Contributing Editor to the Los Angeles Review of Books. I shake it off. Probably just a coincidence. Following this, I contribute to an anthology called The Speed Chronicles coming out later this year (information here, and possibly subject to change.) Yesterday, I was looking over the list of fellow contributors. Guess who else was on the list? James Freaking Franco. I did not watch the Academy Awards earlier this year, because I hate America, but by all reports his performance as co-host was laconic to the point where people wondered if maybe James Franco had been replaced by Zombie James Franco, though unless anyone saw Zombie James Franco actually eating human brains, I don’t know how you’re supposed to tell the difference.

You see my point. What could Zombie James Franco possibly know about speed? (For the record, I don’t know anything about speed, either, but we’re not here to talk about me.) The only possible explanation for his participation in this anthology is that he saw my name on the list of contributors (I signed on early in the process) and insisted on being included. Because he is stalking me.

Most likely this is innocent hero worship, and who can blame him? All I ask (and here I’m talking to you, James, because I know you’re reading this): just be cool, man. If you’re lucky, I might let you stand next to me at some publicity function. But please don’t try to talk to me. My brain is prepetually busy solving several difficult chess problems while also composing an epic poem in alexandrine couplets. I don’t have time for small talk.

Oh, and while this probably should go without saying, I’m going to say it anyway: please don’t eat my brains. Thanks, man.

I was at a dinner party recently at which I met a Famous novelist, who told a story about meeting the Very Famous novelist Thomas Pynchon, who I’m sure you know has a reputation for being, shall we say, a very private person. He doesn’t give interviews. He doesn’t do readings. It’s big news when a decades-old photo of his wrist appears. Nobody knows what he looks like. Etc.

Pynchon came up in conversation because FN and I were talking about the strange phenomenon of author readings, with which we have both long since made our peace, and the daunting task of establishing and maintaining an online “presence” that nowadays comes with the business of writing books. Understand that no one forces us to do readings, or to establish and maintain an online presence, but it is expected, and because of the changing ways in which people discover and consume cultural artifacts, it’s almost inescapable.

So much so, that when FN met Pynchon, Pynchon was musing about the possibility of doing a book tour for his new novel. To which a horrifed FN replied, “No! You can’t! Don’t you see, you have what we all want. You did it. You got away with it. Why throw that away now?”

To which Pynchon replied that, yes, he had “gotten away with it,” but he was pretty sure that if he’d come along twenty years later, he wouldn’t have been able to do so.

There’s a lot to be said for participating in the writerly conversation, for interacting with both readers and other writers, for the free exchange of ideas and enthusiasms. I get that, I really do. But I still struggle with the opposing urge towards hermetic solitude that is, I think, at the root of any writer’s being.

And I still envy the fuck out of Pynchon.

I dug up part of an abandoned novel about a guy who drives from New York to San Francisco with the corpse of his girlfriend (he accidentally kills her in the first chapter)  in the front seat. If you’re squeamish, don’t worry. I cut out all the gross necrophilia stuff. If you’re not squeamish, sorry, I cut out all the cool necrophilia stuff. The novel was orginally called Boola’s Trip. Maybe someday it still will.

Boola’s Trip

“Wyoming—a great land outdoors,” reads the state line greeting. I suppose what they’re saying is: don’t go indoors. Stay outside and play. Here, we have nothing for you indoors.

The road surface had changed in color from Nebraska’s abraded black vinyl to a lighter, reddish material, some sort of sandstone-based asphalt. Snow swirled in menacing flurries from the green and brown mesas and plateaus surrounding me down across the hood of my speeding Utero.

The mesas were dotted with scrub pine. We passed a graveyard for old railroad cars, stacked in lopsided piles beside a stretch of rusty, unused track. The first part of Wyoming is as flat as my pitch when I sing along to the radio; I could see all the way to the looming mountains, miles and miles in the leaden distance. We were about 45 miles from Cheyenne. It was approximately two-thirty in the afternoon. Mountain Time.

My software needs upgrading. My operating system is outdated. I have a theory about sex. “I have a theory about sex,” I announced to Boola, moonlighting as my girlfriend, well-hung on every pearl of too-truth dropped from my clenched jaws. “My theory, and please note, it’s only a theory–distilled from the honey of daily observation, patiently sifted, sure, but still….”

***

There didn’t look to be an easy way out of this. A dead girl in the front seat is a dead girl in the front seat, no matter how you say it, or don’t say it, or refuse to acknowledge it.

I resolved to check the atlas next time we stopped, though I had grown adept at pinning the book against the steering wheel and checking my location by means of a swift series of glances. Not that I was worried about getting lost. Even before GPS, it wasn’t easy to get lost in America anymore. Hard to believe if you just stay on this road you can travel three thousand miles from one place to another. From one empty feeling to another.

Passion without precision: chaos. Feeling kind of shandy. Kisses all lead to dreaming, and dreaming leads to death. I have a persistent nagging fear that the world of dreams is the one you will inhabit when you die. That the final few seconds of electrical brain activity will last for a seeming infinity—the only real infinity, I suppose, that any human ego can comprehend.

And that would really bum me out, to be honest. I’d prefer nothingness to some creepy oneiric landscape, over which one can exercise only an unpredictable and vague kind of control. I have anxiety about the afterlife. I fear that when plopped into its recondite midst, I will have a panic attack. Here’s my hell: an eternal panic attack, and no red wine.

***

Huge robot transformers, arms raised alertly, shunt the country’s electricity along thick ropes of conductive wire. When you pass near them the AM radio band hisses with static, the sound of blood boiling or my brain on drugs, enveloping in a fizzy rush this week’s Business Roundtable, a discussion I think of a new kind of spreadsheet software, then ebbing quickly, back to the banal chatter that helps keep me from thinking too much.

I’m cruising down Route 80 under a sky like shaved soap, the blue of my Utero’s hood etiolated to a light gray in the fading afternoon light. Not even the ontic perplexities of the twitchy stiff propped next to me could distract from the highway delight I now experienced. Gentle vehicular vibrations transferred from the wheels to the drive shaft to the steering wheel to my arms and on through my body, so that I was trembling with connectivity, with what Mary Baker Eddy called at-one-ment, with sheer driving excitement.

***

I’m not really sure what happened next. I remember the road in front of me sparkling in my headlights. I think we passed the skeleton of a semi in the meridian, buried up to its haunches in luminous powder. I jumped a fast train of thought, and had trouble sorting out the meaning behind the referents. I saw or thought I saw the shimmering carpet in front of me lift up, into the sky, and we rode a carpet of stars over the whole earth, over the storm and the white fields, the ribbon of road, the jutting heliotrope hills. And then just as suddenly as we had taken off we began to plummet, more quickly than I could register. The great white shawl of the ground came rushing towards us but I felt no fear, because this was what I had always wanted: to be embraced. We touched down hard, snow exploding everywhere around us, and we hurtled uncontrollably through the night for uncountable seconds. Eventually we sledded to a halt I knew not where.

I could not move. I could not think. I felt no pain, but could not seem to open my eyes, or, if they were open, to see. I drifted into a state of semi-consciousness.

 

Search for: Peace with self.

Item(s) not found.

 

Search for: Meaning.

Item(s) not found.

 

Search for: Reason to live.

Item(s) not found.

 

Two books I happened to read recently and would like to tell you about:

Frank Hinton I Don’t Respect Female Expression (Safety Third Enterprises, 2011)

Frank Hinton is an enigma wrapped in a mystery on a bed of lettuce. A construct, possibly of/by a real person named Frank Hinton, possibly not. His/her limited edition chapbook contains twelve short discrete pieces that defy nomenclatural classification (story? prose poem? flash fiction?), some of which are about a character named Frank who may or may not be the same Frank as the constructed Frank who writes the unclassifiable pieces in this chapbook. I’m not sure there’s any useful difference.

One of the first few stories is called “Make a Man,” and it instructs either the reader or the writer, or both: “Make a man and name him Frank.” The story ends with “Give him a psychic anchor. Give him yourself. Your name is Lili. Fuck him.” The next story is about a couple named Frank and Lili who do not fuck—though Frank seems to want to, and Lili, too, the story is mostly about the closely related processes of cooking and writing.

My favorite piece in this brief collection is called “All of the People In These Pictures Are Dead Now.” It’s about what it says it’s about, and though it (intentionally?) misspells Friedrich Engels as Frederich Engles, the piece ends with the author him/herself lying dead/not dead in a field, waiting to “see what animals come to pick me apart and carry me away.” While that sounds like an unsettling image, in fact, because of the masterly build-up throughout the story of a pervasive melancholy that the title perfectly expresses, it’s a beautiful and beautifully sad image.

 

Scott McClanahan Stories V! (Holler Presents, 2011)

Stories V! is set in the same Appalachian wasteland as McClanahan’s earlier collections, Stories I and Stories II. The main character in many of McClanahan’s stories is named Scott McClanahan, and the way he presents his pieces the reader is led to believe, or at least this reader was, that these are not fictions but things that actually happened, and it’s quite possible that some if not all of these things did actually happen, but that’s quite beside the point.

There’s a story in the beginning called “Invisible Ink” where the narrator explains that as a child his mother wrote him a message in invisible ink, that only appeared when he believed there was a message in invisible ink on the paper he held. The message was: “Thank you for believing.” The narrator then asks the reader “So I ask you now, “Do you believe?” There follow several apparently blank pages, at the end of which, at the top of the page is a message in all caps: “THANK YOU FOR BELIEVING.”

I think it would be a mistake, then, to call McClanahan’s hardscrabble characters and stories “realistic” or “gritty” even when they are realistic and gritty. Beckley, West Virginia is a place that exists. It is real. The characters Scott writes about, including the Scott who’s a character, seem real. But none of the stories in this book are real. They’re stories. McClanahan seems determined to blur the line between fiction and reality so thoroughly that one can be substituted for the other without anyone the wiser. But it’s not the job of fiction to make you wiser. The job of fiction is to put a spell on you that you can never again shake.

Both of these books, in different ways, perform that difficult magic trick. If I were you, I would go out of my way to read them.

The excellent site On Earth As It Is has seen fit to publish a short thing I wrote. Both that site’s proprietors and myself would be very happy if you would take a minute to visit. Here.

Tagged with:
 

…and that nation is Belgium. Although France probably ain’t too happy, either (but then, they’ve got their own problems).

 

Over at Fictionaut, I posted a new story. It’s about the salt-cellar created by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), pictured above. It’s pretty short. If you want to read it, go here.

Due to a truly impressive volume of spam comments appearing here recently, I’ve had to put all comments into moderation mode, and I’m also going to ask that you register with the site in order to comment. Feel free to register with a fake email and psuedonym, it’s not like I’m going to check. But it helps keep the spambots away. And if you can’t think of a good fake email address or pseudonym, I promise that I will never email you or otherwise exploit your email for any purpose whatsoever. I’m not even sure I would know how to do that.

I’m hoping this is a temporary situation, but in the meantime if you leave a comment and it doesn’t appear right away, it’s because I’m away from the computer, not because I don’t like you or your comment. I want eveveryone who wants to comment to comment. I have no intention of censoring anyone or anything. Except the spambots. Because if left unchecked, they will take away our pancakes. And I’m just not going to let that happen.

Thanks for your understanding, and thanks as always for, you know, everything.

I posted another story over at Fictionaut here. It’s about St. Francis. Or something. I don’t know what the hell it’s about. That’s your job. It was originally published in Metazen. Good people.

Thanks to the wonderful, indispensable, and many other superlatives repository of the avant-garde, UbuWeb, you can hear and or download a four-CD collection of Jean Cocteau reading/speaking from his work, or introducing the work of other people (for instance introducing Edith Piaf, a close friend, before a performance).

I don’t need to explain who Cocteau was, right? Everybody knows he was one of the most influential figures in French poetry, art, literature, and film in the 20th century. There’s a nice synopsis of his life and collaborations/contributions on the UbuWeb page, anyway.

Go here to listen/read/download. Yes, it’s all in French. Sorry. He was French. It’s not his fault.

The French newspaper L’Express has on the occasion of the 64th Cannes Film Festival put up a collection of all 64 Cannes Film Festival posters on their website, here.

The poster above, for the 1961 festival, is one of my favorites, but almost all of them are pretty great. This one was designed by A.M. Rodicq.

In case you were wondering, the Palme D’Or went that year to two films ex aequo: Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana, and Henri Colpi’s Une aussi longue absence.

Screen cap from Channel 13 interview

Bits and pieces of this have been floating around for a while now, but turns out there’s more, much more, than I had previously thought. If you go here, you can benefit from the hard work of a bunch of people who are not me, who’ve been digging through New York’s Channel 13 archives for pieces of a long interview with the patron saint of this site, Vladimir Nabokov. You will learn, among other things, how to pronounce “Lolita” in Russian, and incidentally how to pronounce it in English. (You’ve been doing it wrong.)

Two books and one DVD that you should not hesitate to buy/rent/steal:

These movies don’t need my recommendation, but the collection itself, with its wealth of extras and (as always) immaculate transfers, is worth its weight in a precious metal slightly less expensive than gold but more expensive than silver. I don’t know what that metal is, but if you find out: bingo!

 

Jean-Patrick Manchette wrote more than just these two masterpieces of existentialist French noir, but these two are my favorite. Both are available in English. Fatale from NYRB in an indifferent translation, and La position du tireur couché (as The Prone Gunman) in a better translation from City Lights Noir. If you can read French, you should. Manchette has been described as Guy Debord meets Rayond Chandler, and while that’s both reductive and inaccurate, it’s not entirely wrong.

sobertec | Horst Ferrero | Michael Weisberg Lend to America

This week in Los Angeles there occurred (and as I type this is still occurring, though not for a few hours yet) a book festival called the Los Angeles Time Festival of Books. It’s a compete clusterfuck, but people seem to enjoy it. Last year I went for the first time. I sat at the Book Soup table and signed copies of The Failure for an hour with Stephen Elliott, author of a bunch of books and editor of a website called The Rumpus. Nice guy.

Book Soup, for those who don’t live in Los Angeles, is a very fine independent bookstore here in LA. There are several. Stories in Echo Park and Skylight Books are examples of two others.

This year my publisher at Akashic Books, Johnny Temple, and his Managing Editor Johanna Ingalls flew in from New York (actually Johanna lives in Ireland, but that’s a long story) for the festival. On Wednesday, there was a reading at Book Soup featuring: Joseph Mattson, author of Empty The Sun, with whom I have conducted about eleventy-seven readings on both coasts of the United States for what seems like the last several years of my life; Nina Revoyr, author of Wingshooters, a very fine and finely-written novel; and Nathan Larson, author of The Dewey Decimal System. Nathan’s maybe (maybe) better known as a film composer and former member of Shudder To Think, but his book is brilliant. You should buy all three of these books. I did. (Well, I didn’t buy Joseph’s book, because I already own it. But you take my point.) While it would be impractical to suggest that you buy these books at Book Soup if you don’t live in LA, I hope you will consider patronizing your own local independent book store, rather than, say, Amazon, because these serve as much more than mere booksellers. They are, to me at least, sort of like shelter from the storm, if you imagine the unlettered world as a storm. Especially in Los Angeles, which despite a recent surge of literary activity that threatens to deface the city’s reputation as a black hole of culture, has not historically been known for its bookishness.

The photo above is my attempt to take a picture of Nathan reading from his novel at Book Soup, using my phone as a camera. Some people are very good at this. I am not one of those people. Afterwards we all went out to a nearby bar which shall remain nameless because of its impressive awfulness, and ate something unidentifiable, while Nathan and his old bandmate Craig Wedren and I swapped mid-90s rock stories. I will not trouble you with these. You’re welcome.