July 2011

Everything I’ve read so far this year with brief notes

When Marina Abramović Dies: A Biography by James Westcott * * * Read a lot of this in a bathtub where it was cold out and the tub was warm after Scott McClanahan suggested I’d like it; I did like it; reading about her life dedicated to making these insane performances seemed really motivating, and that time can be put to good use over periods. I like to think about the phases of her life.

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt * * * * Had tried to read this before and lost the book before I got really going; it has such an insanely beautifully orchestrated opening section, one of the sharpest I’ve read in a while, while still having narrative; she does a lot in this book that seems like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere, orchestrated almost entirely around the relationship between a mother and son; loved.

Termite Parade by Joshua Mohr * * * * Really liked the sections about the conceptual video project in this book; he has a good edge to his voice, a good mix of action and idea; looking forward to his next one in the trilogy, Damascus.

The Loser by Thomas Bernhard * * * * Different for Bernhard in a way; really enjoyed reading about Glenn Gould and the two minds of the friends there in their jealousy of his mastery; suicide is always compelling to read about; the last page of this book wins it.

The Book of Lazarus by Richard Grossman * * * * Reading this book felt insane, like being locked up in a cabinet or something; I like thick books that have pages that move quickly, like you are swimming.


Roundup / 45 Comments
July 28th, 2011 / 4:15 pm

Stop Doing This

Stop titling your stories, “What We _____ About When We _____ About ______.”

Seriously, stop it.

This is the literary equivalent of putting a bird on it. (If you don’t get that reference, please stop what you’re doing and go catch up with this joke. Ok. Thanks. Hi.) Using the “What We ______ About When We ______ About ______” title is no longer even an homage to Carver’s story and story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I don’t know what anyone is even trying to accomplish by re-using that title anymore. If I was still reading slush for a magazine I would automatically delete any entries with this kind of title. All a title like that says to me is this piece was written by a lazy pseudo-hipster.

Craft Notes & Mean / 47 Comments
July 28th, 2011 / 3:35 pm

Dennis Cooper & Keith Mayerson’s Horror Hospital Unplugged

Finally the gorgeous and psionic (and previously OOP) graphic novel Horror Hospital Unplugged, written by Dennis Cooper and illustrated by Keith Mayerson, has been rereleased by Harper Perennial. “If Antonin Artaud and Keith Haring took the wrong drugs and collaborated on a kids cartoon show.” Wish I could plaster the walls of my house all over.

More excerpts available at DC’s blog, as well as in the ‘look inside the book’ feature on Amazon.

Author Spotlight / 8 Comments
July 28th, 2011 / 12:46 pm

The more you worship yourself online the bigger fukk you look like.

Aldrich Ames on Writing

“I’m a traitor, but I don’t consider myself a traitor.”

“The human spy, in terms of the American espionage effort, had never been terribly pertinent.”

“You might as well ask why a middle-aged man with no criminal record might put a paper bag over his head and rob a bank. I acted out of personal desperation.”

“I could have stopped it after they paid me the $50,000. I wouldn’t even have had to go on to do more than I already had: just the double agents’ names that I gave.”

“The use of the polygraph has done little more than create confusion, ambiguity and mistakes.”

“The betrayal of trust carries a heavy taboo.”

Craft Notes / 9 Comments
July 27th, 2011 / 5:19 pm

So. How to Write a Novel?

Many of you have, so do tell. Once you weren’t writing a novel, then you were. WTF? How did it go, or not go? Exhausting or exhilarating? Robert Penn Warren says you are a car driving a back-road at night—you can see as far as the headlights, the next couple of pages. Or: Should I go total road-map and fuck you, RPW, how about storyboarding (a cousin of waterboarding) or, you know, A. Dillard sprawling out her cut-up paragraphs on a large wooden table in her kitchen so she can see the layout, the spatial design. (But if I’m in the kitchen, gonna make some coffee…) A query letter? What did you just call me? Take a stack of 3X5 index cards and…ur, who even uses index cards anymore and so you begin using heroin, ride the dragon, etc., on the nod, who knows what you’ll find? Technique. You just wake up one day and put ass in seat and black on white and say, “I am writing a novel.” Night-voice says, “Ive done this and that, but I need to write a novel.” Hey! Know what? Plot stems from character under adversity. My ass. No, no, not your ass, go drop shrooms while avoiding trite phrases, cliches, or deliberately unusual words. Simone de Beauvoir was so hot she burned her first two novel drafts, published the third—is that the way? Or is it “I do not usually revise much.” Word count versus using household chores as “thinking time.” Thinking time? Remember that “nothing in a story happens at random” versus feel/fall your way through, let the story bloom, little rose, little flower of verbs, thorns…. oh tired metaphors. Wait. The thing is to know nothing. So.

Oh, I’ll get back up, you barefooted bitch. You novel thing. Ah, fuck. Are we daunted? I feel daunted. Anyone else want write a novel, but, hey, feel daunted? Un-daunt us. Someone. Please?

Craft Notes & Random / 46 Comments
July 27th, 2011 / 3:59 pm

The Writer’s Mind?

Last night as I was leaving the local pub, a middle-aged drunk woman jumped into my car with me before I knew what was happening. She said, “Hey, gimme a ride up the street?” and proceeded to talk about her husband who doesn’t come home when he should but who’s pretty good to her.

I didn’t know she was a prostitute until she said, “Hey, slow down,” at which point I slowed to 30mph on a 45mph street, and “Roll down your windows. How am I supposed to see?” So we rolled past the seedy motels of my neighborhood, as she explained to me how she has to see who’s where. This somehow made sense to me. It even made sense when she had me turn onto a street behind an abandoned Winn Dixie and onto another, smaller street where several men strolled on cell phones. I thought this was where she’d get out, but when two of the men came up to the car, she told me to go. She said, “Go. Now.” Even this seemed okay. We drove some more, casing more corners, checking out the motel situations.

We spotted another woman she knew, much younger, much thinner, much more traditionally dressed for this line of work, and I pulled onto a corner to drop her off. But we were friends now. She didn’t want to leave, so she whispered that the girl was her daughter. I said, “Really?” and she said, “No.”

The two of them argued through the window about a lighter for a while, and then they fought about age differences. “She says I’m 14,” the new girl told me, “but don’t believe her. I’m 29.”

And then the woman with whom I’d, by now, spent a half an hour or so, jumped out of my car and started chasing her friend down the street and out of my life. All I could think was, I have to get out here more often. What a great story this would make. And I do this all the time. With my dad’s Alzheimer’s. With crazy roommates. How will I do this justice on paper, as though paper is the only way to legitimize life.

Do other writers do this? Am I my own kind of prostitute?


Behind the Scenes & Random / 66 Comments
July 27th, 2011 / 12:11 pm

Dear Publishers, When you go around saying you are into “discovering new voices,” make sure you don’t really mean “discovering new people who write in the exact same voices we always publish.”

All the Albums that Have Been Released in 2011 Thus Far that I Have Downloaded Illegally (with Commentary)


936 – Peaking Lights → I like this, but I’m not gonna get all excited about it.

A I A : Alien Observer – Grouper → This seems like alien music maybe? Just kidding, but am I? I think I liked this.

A I A : Dream Loss – Grouper → This is the same as the other one, right?

All Eternals Deck – The Mountain Goats → Forgettable. Forgiveable.

Angels Exodus – Lil B → Can’t go wrong, but also… can’t remember listening to this ever. Still seems good.

Apocalypse – Bill Callahan → One of my favorite albums of the year. Very funny, very smart. Excellent songwriting by a consistently excellent songwriter. Listened to this walking from East Village to West Village several mornings. Really good music videos.


Music / 49 Comments
July 26th, 2011 / 10:50 pm

“Teachers and writers who venerate Catcher have to ask themselves: How relevant is Holden in a world where he is an actual minority?”
Ned Vizzini on The End of the White Outsider