Archive for July, 2011

Have we met? Nouvella Books

from the editors of Nouvella:

“Dearest Readers,

As many of you already know, Flatmancrooked closed its doors in May this year. Nouvella is a new project springing from FMC’s New Novella imprint and the LAUNCH program, and the website went live yesterday. Head over to the site for more details and fancy hover-overs.

Also on the website, you’ll find e-book versions of Flatmancrooked novellas “If You’re Not Yet Like Me” by Edan Lepucki and “Your Rightful Home” by Alyssa Knickerbocker available for immediate purchase and download (and there are even some physical copies of “If You’re Not Yet Like Me” left if you hurry). The e-books can also be found on iTunes and Amazon if you’d prefer (but our website is pretty friendly).

Here we are on the various mediums:

Twitter: nouvellabooks
Facebook: facebook.com/nouvellabooks

In immediate news, Nouvella is in the August issue of NYLON magazine as the “Meet the Press” feature! It ought to be hitting shelves this week or next, so keep your eye out for the cover with Olivia Wilde grabbing herself.

In August we will be releasing our debut novella, “The Last Repatriate” by Matthew Salesses. Stay tuned for release dates and information about the launch.

That’s all for now. Thanks for checking us out and for all your support with Flatmancrooked in the past. We can hardly wait for what’s up ahead.”

 

review + interview /// Hunters & Gamblers by Ryan Ridge

Hunters & Gamblers is a collection of stories and a novella, but it is also more than that. It is the mixture of suburban life with urban trappings, of writing about relationships and writing about coke, of war scenes and sex with centaurs. The craft here is high-quality and wicked smart, but this mixing makes Hunters & Gamblers feel like so much more than just a collection of stories. So let’s begin with that big question: what exactly is this book, and what does it mean to you?

Hunters & Gamblers is a collection of 24 fictions I wrote over a five-year period (from the spring of 2005 to the spring of 2010). I’d amassed a decent amount of material during this time, about 300 pages worth of finished pieces, but the first thing I did when I decided to arrange the pieces into a manuscript was to trim the thing down to a couple hundred pages (which Brian Allen Carr and I later pared down to 125 pages). Originally, I cut anything that didn’t work thematically and as I started to assemble the manuscript I noticed several strands running through the works: bankruptcy; war; the idea of masculinity and the relationships between men (fathers and sons, brothers, soldiers); and place (more specifically geography). Much of the book’s sensibility is derived from those dark days of the second Bush administration. When I was writing book then I woke up most days expecting an apocalypse by the afternoon. That sense of dread and paranoia worked its way into much of the collection, but I tried to counter that fear and loathing with humor and love. When I look at the book now I realize I’m a bit of a dark fuck, but I’m ultimately optimistic about our endeavor and I think that’s reflected in the stories. The book is about America––all of the various Americas (real and imagined, historical and hysterical) overlapping. It’s also about human hearts burning for a connection to something significant.

As it varies its thematic points, Hunters & Gamblers also varies lengths, opening with micro-fiction, moving into short stories, hitting its mid-line with the novella Holiest of Holies, and then moving back to short stories and vignettes. How typical is this varied length in your overall writing life, and did it make this book easier or more difficult to assemble, in terms of creating the right flow and pacing?

The length variety is typical in my overall writing experience. My comfort zone is in the vicinity of micro-fiction. The inclination is to go short. Get in. Get out. Try not to waste words. Going long is painful for me and it also increases my Suckage Potential exponentially, but I’ve found when I actually give myself permission to go long the results are surprising and rewarding, so I like to push myself to write longer stories too. If I didn’t push myself most of my stories would be one sentence long. I have mad respect for maximalist writers like David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Joshua Cohen. I’d be that kind of writer if I could choose, but alas I cannot so I’m making due with what I’ve got and playing to my own edge. I think maybe I write short(ish) because I never learned to type. I’m a two finger man. Tap, tap. Just the other day a friend was saying: “Ryan, you better learn how to type before you write your masterpiece. Either that or your masterpiece is going to be like 60 pages long!”

In terms of assembling the pieces it was real easy. Brian Allen Carr did it. I just sat back and said: “Yessir! Looks good. Works.” He broke the book into three sections, what he called my “darker works” he put first. He put the novella as the centerpiece of the collection (originally I had it at the end) and after the novella he put what he referred to as my “geography pieces.” Pieces about place. He thought the collection needed to end with ‘The Plagiarist Checks Out’ and I agreed. It was the right note to end on. My main contribution to the assembling process was to put the piece ‘Chapter 11’ as the 11th piece in the collection, but BAC is the man responsible for the  rhythm and the flow. He’s an all-around badass! Badass writer. Badass editor.

Hunters & Gamblers also dovetails several modes into a single book. For instance, we get pieces like ‘Heavy-Handed’:

“That’s heavy-handed,” said the mustache.

“I’ll show you heavy-handed,” said the beard. Then he hauled back and pistol-whipped his brother until he was still. He walked away feeling strangely relieved.

It continued to snow.

Two days later, a couple of neighbor children were making angels in the snow, near the mound, when they discovered the body. Above it they found seven arrowheads, which formed a perfect halo around its head, and above the arrowheads they found an empty pistol.

and pieces like ‘Tomahawk Cuts Rain’:

As a consideration, let us consider what people considered before the American Revolution. Where are we exactly? – he may have considered, crouching in an undisclosed Vermont General’s secret tax shelter as the autumn wind whispered soft annuities in Narragansett.

and then pieces like ‘Sunshine State’:

Wife?

Gone.

Child?

Missing.

Most likely Child Missing with Wife Gone.

Also missing: keys.

Also gone: Ford Explorer.

Figure: Missing Keys with Gone Explorer.

Figure: Child Missing with Wife Gone with Missing Keys with Gone Explorer at Mother-in-Law’s in Tallahassee.

How intentional is this blending of modes and how did you go about creating it?

Yes, the mixing of modes was very intentional. I wanted the collection to be just that: a collection of disparate forms and styles and since the book was written over a period of years, I had a lot of different types of stories from which to choose. I tried to choose stories that wouldn’t ordinarily hang out together in a book.

Dark Sky Books and Kevin Murphy and Brian Allen Carr are consistently putting out beautiful books, both in their physical production as well as the content they select to publish. Most of us though probably don’t know much about the process / paces that Dark Sky puts its authors through. Can you give us an evolutionary snapshot of Hunters & Gamblers from acceptance to first printing?

I sent Kevin Murphy the manuscript in July of 2010. He wrote back a few weeks later and said: “Damn straight I’d like to publish this!” I signed the contract the next week. Throughout the fall we worked out small logistical stuff: figured out who was going to blurb the book, talked about doing a book trailer or two, and we also started kicking around ideas for the cover. In November we decided on the original Thomas Allen image for the cover. Flash forward to February and BAC and I started trimming things down. The manuscript I originally sent was closer to 200 pages. We cut 75 pages. In March and April, we edited the manuscript. BAC did an amazing job on it and so did Kevin. That’s the thing about Dark Sky; they have not one, but two awesome editors. Kevin is a fantastic editor too. In June, we launched the book site. Then on July 14th the book released. All told the process took a year: lots of emails, texts, and phone calls in between. All in all, it was a blast. I loved working with Kevin and Brian.

And there was a bit of a hiccup on the cover art for this book, where another piece by Thomas Allen was originally intended as the cover until it was discovered that this particular photograph had already been used as album artwork. A new piece from the same Allen genius was moved in, and the cover is newly gorgeous now, but were there any other bumps or glitches along the way that you can share with our readers? We all love to know that not everything with making a book is smooth sailing and flawless execution.

Aside from the cover incident (which was quickly rectified), it was an easy process. Dark Sky takes good care of their writers. Kevin and BAC are pros in every way. They make beautiful books and I’m just happy they took a chance on my collection.

For those who don’t know, Mud Luscious Press will be releasing your novel(la) American Homes in 2013. Can you give us a sneak-peak of what readers can expect from this forthcoming book?

American Homes is where the party’s at. American Homes is hoping against hope against the wind. American Homes is afraid of foreclosing. American Homes is writing essays after the death of the essay. American Homes is dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, twirling a sign for a furniture store on the side of the road. American Homes is networking with homeowners. American Homes is drifting on a raft reading an unedited version of Huckleberry Finn. American Homes is American Literature. American Homes is thawed by the past. American Homes is traveling on a Greyhound bus in search of a perfect neighborhood. American Homes is putting a flower in the mouth of a police rifle at a housing riot. American Homes is living in a tent behind William Vollman’s American Home. American Homes is looking forward to your eyes. They’re such beautiful eyes. 

You also have a previously published book that I haven’t read but that looks absolutely stunning. Can you share with us a bit about OX, how it came to be and what it is?

OX is a collection of tiny poems I wrote under constraint. All of the poems are comprised of o’s and x’s and they form a loose narrative of a character named Ox. Early on I wrote a few of the Ox poems and sent them to Cooper Renner over at elimae. He was kind and encouraging to the project in its infancy and it’s because of him that the project became. BatCat Press ran it. They make gorgeous handmade books in small editions.

I wrote the bulk of the Ox poems as I was assembling H & G in the spring of 2010. They were a fun way to escape writing stories. Stories take a lot out of me as I’m an incredibly slow writer, but OX was fast. I wrote the collection in two weeks. I like to have multiple projects going or else I can’t get anything going.

Hunters & Gamblers really is a book unlike any I’ve read before. The way that it is composed, carefully (and artfully) crafted to blend length and mode and thematic pull, is fantastic. I would never have expected to love a book that includes a novella about a Centaur who does coke, so the surprise here was lovely. Thanks for writing this book, thanks to Kevin Murphy and Dark Sky for publishing it, and thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

My pleasure. Thank  you, J.A.. These were great questions. This was fun.

Buy this book here. Read more about / from Ryan Ridge here.

 

review + interview /// Compendium by Kristina Marie Darling

Let’s start with a comparison: Your first book, Night Songs, was released from Gold Wake Press in 2010 and is what I would term a thematically linked poetry collection – a solid collection that nicely highlights your strengths as a poet; Compendium reads more like a derelict story to me (a compliment to be sure), with a narrative thread that is woven into the piece then buried then relocated again and again throughout its pages. What kind of narrative direction were you pushing in Compendium, and how else does this new book differ from Night Songs?

You’re absolutely right that Compendium reads more like fiction than Night Songs.  When I wrote my first book, I was interested in creating an imaginary world that the reader could enter, one that would be consistent throughout the collection.  Compendium was an attempt to refine this idea, and to offer more of a payoff for the reader who enters the strange little universe I’ve created in that particular text.

The term “payoff” is definitely unclear, so I’ll explain what I mean by it in more detail.  For me, one of the great joys of reading is experiencing a sense of agency, especially when one is asked to imaginatively reconstruct plot elements.  I love works like H.D.’s Helen in Egypt, Anne Carson’s Nox, and Jenny Boully’s The Body: An Essay, texts in which a story has been obscured, and must be uncovered by the reader.  In Night Songs, I felt that I had created an imaginary world, but that the book didn’t look closely at any one part of it, definitely not enough for the reader to be able to excavate this kind of hidden narrative from the text.

When I set out to write Compendium, I hoped to experiment with this idea.  I wanted to present the reader with an imagined world, but to be more specific about it, and return to some of the same characters, images, and ideas.  It ended up being a challenge, one that pushed me to try new things, especially literary forms I had never used before. With that said, Compendium is not only more narrative than Night Songs, but it’s also much more formally diverse.

You employ a wide variety of modes in Compendium – the book starts with vignettes, moves into a series of poetry based on the erasure of those vignettes, then turns to notes, footnotes, and a glossary of terms – how did you come about this type of book-length array, and how difficult was that to maintain and then to revise into the final solidified text?

That’s a great question.  When I first started writing Compendium, I tried to return to images and themes that I had written about in previous pieces.  As a poet, I’ve always strived for projects that have some degree of internal resonance.  Returning to images, characters, and my own obsessions seemed like a good way to promote unity among the individual poems.

As I depicted these same items in piece after piece, I found myself wanting to experiment with form.  I think most people would say that different literary forms allow writers to make different observations about the same subject.  For me, it seems like choosing a particular form also allows one to leave certain things unsaid, and this might not happen exactly the same way if the writer had chosen differently.  Because I was trying to create and obscure a narrative that ran through each individual piece, challenging myself to experiment in this way seemed almost inevitable.  And the more adventurous I became with using glossaries, footnotes, vignettes, and notes, the more useful it seemed to limit the scope of the project, and focus on fewer themes and images.

There is also a certain intense focus on colors, especially in the first sections of the book:

‘Alone with her sanctimonious parcel, its blue paper wrapping, and cluster of green ribbons…’

‘Snow falling outside the great white house…’

‘…with its faint music and array of red velvet chairs…’

‘Her music drifting farther into the cold blue arms of that evening.’

How often do you use colors in your writing, and how else does the visual world work its way into your texts?

While I use colors in some of my poems in Night Songs, it’s especially important for Compendium.  The work started as part of a collaboration with a visual artist, Max Avi Kaplan, who finds a great deal of inspiration in Victorian material culture, particularly the fashions and conventions associated with mourning.  As a result, the book is filled with not only colors, but textures, fabrics, and strange objects.

The other staple of this collection is its insistent reference to classical styles

‘The Blue Sonnets’

‘Footnotes to a History of the Victorian Novel’

‘An Introduction to the Lyric Ode’

There are those subtitles, along with a multitude of other loud allusions to classical literary traditions, yet the collection itself does not follow or perpetuate these approaches. So if the intent is not to reproduce or duplicate, what do you want your readers to get from these myriad references?

I think of every poem as an act of deconstruction, a conversation with the literary works that came before it.  For me, this potential for dialogue and community is one of the most exciting aspects of contemporary poetry.  With that said, I hope that the reader sees my references to classical styles as conversation of just this sort.   By invoking classical forms—such as lyric odes, sonnets, and Victorian novels—I hoped to explore their relevance to a new literary landscape, one that’s filled with hybrid texts, found forms, and fragmented narratives.

To wrap up our discussion of the book’s content, help us define this book: A ‘compendium’ is loosely termed as a concise treatment of a subject (a summary), or a full list on subject (an inventory). I can see both possibilities, but which one of these is your Compendium, and in either case, what subject does this book summarize or inventory?

I had intended the book as both, a concise treatment of a subject and an inventory.  This is because the fragments that the reader is presented with are the whole story.  With that said, the book’s subject is a love story between two characters, one that the reader is invited to reconstruct from the fragments he or she is presented with.

If we shift to the often unseen side of getting a new book out into the world, how was it working with Cow Heavy Books and Donora Hillard? Can you give us a little insight into the publishing and editing process with them? And what are the differences and similarities working with one press (Gold Wake) over another (Cow Heavy)?

I had a fantastic experience working with Cow Heavy Books, and Donora Hillard is a great editor in addition to being a great poet. Since I’m a huge fan of the authors that they’ve published in the past, I was really excited to work with them.  As for the unseen side of book publishing, the press using a professional design service for book covers, typesetting, and printing.  I was impressed with the production quality every step of the way.

While I had a wonderful experience working with Gold Wake Press for my first book (so much so that I’m publishing my third book with them also), the two presses are very different to work with.  The editor at Gold Wake Press, Jared Michael Wahlgren, places a great deal of trust in the authors that he publishes.  I think this is wonderful, and I have so much respect for  editors like him.  After hearing many of my writer friends complain about the cover artwork that their publisher had chosen for their book, for example, I was thrilled when Jared said he was open to whatever I had in mind for the cover of Night Songs.

Donora and the design services used by Cow Heavy, on the other hand, made some aesthetic choices during the production Compendium.  But I was always happy and thankful that they did.  Since my specialty is writing poems, I would have never thought to ask for some of small touches and flourishes that make the book itself so beautiful.

Your next book The Body is a Little Gilded Cage: A Story in Letters & Fragments is already available for pre-order from Gold Wake Press. Can you tell us a little about this forthcoming title, provide us with a synopsis as a sneak peek or some other enticement?

The collection, which is even more formally adventurous than Compendium, is inspired by the life of Modernist poet H.D.—a patient of Sigmund Freud, not to mention Ezra Pound’s girlfriend.  That’s reason enough to read the book, in my humble assessment.  If you do, you’ll find erasures, word collages, and notes on psychoanalysis with the original psychoanalyst.

Thanks for chatting with us. Compendium is a wonderfully quick read with a sharp tongue and a lovely musical underscore. A book that both poets and prose writers will enjoy, which is a difficult feat to accomplish yet one you’ve done with prowess and clarity.

Buy this book here

Ten Everywhere: Lavinia Ludlow and alt.punk

  

In 10 words (no more, no less), describe alt.punk.
LL: American naturalism, punk gods, and uptight suburbia collide in alt.punk

How did you come up with the title?
LL: I pulled “alt” from the word alternative, such as there are alternative forms of what each of us may consider normal or acceptable or beautiful. The term “punk” is up for debate and depends on what the reader takes away from the novel. The formatting is a series of innovative attempts (like iPod), coupled with a misinterpretation sent back by the publisher. I started with “alt. Punk” and one day the publisher wrote back “alt.punk.” Aesthetically I liked it a lot more.

If there was one punk song that describes you, what would it be?
LL: Jokingly? Attitude by the Misfits. Kind of serious? Live Fast, Die Young by the Circle Jerks. Seriously? Smash It Up by the Damned.

So, which one goes first: Hazel, Kree, Otis or Landon?
LL: Are you asking me my favorite character? Hands down, it’s Landon. He embodies a true badass. He’s confident, whip-smart and as a consequence a smart-ass, yet he’s protective, a family man (kinda), and weak in the knobby knees when it comes to his girlfriend.

(p64) – What is your favorite dinosaur compliment?
LL: Once, a guy told me he liked the feeling of my “stegosaurus” when he hugged me. I think he just couldn’t think of the right word (vertebrae), but I’d like to think he meant it in a sweet way. Yeah, underneath it all, I’m sort of a puss.

(p115) – Where is your confidence today (between vengeful beast and fearful titmouse)?
LL: We’ve all got our issues, demons, what have you. I’d say right now I’m a chinchilla. You never know what I’m thinking under all that fuzz. I may just bite your fingertip and/or other right off when you reach in to cuddle with me.

(p135) – Move forward and create new stories or go back and analyze old ones?
LL: New ones. Always new ones. Drafting is the most exhilarating. It seems though my writing process is about 98% editing, 2% drafting. It’s possible I may just need to draft slower and more responsibly.

(p164) – What do you have: not liver or a broken heart?
LL: Thankfully, I still have a functional liver and the most freakishly weirdo yet geeky boyfriend who is very sarcastic and can serve it back to me just as well as I can serve it to him. I could do without his Glee obsession and the Cheetos dust he leaves behind everywhere, but we work. Kinda.

(p192) – Do you have your three inches now?
LL: Some days I feel as if I have an infinite amount of inches, that my life is an oyster with millions of pearls. And then something miniscule happens, like I’m one quarter short for a load of laundry, and then I bipolar swing the other way and feel there’s no way out, I haven’t accomplished anything, and I’m living life in black and white. Art keeps me balanced though. I’ve found that an equilibrium of music, writing, and hard work really makes for a satisfying experience. Yeah, it took me nearly twenty-eight years to figure that out but better now then never.

What was the worst thing you have done with bleach?
LL: Unintentionally combined it with ammonia. I should have paid more attention in remedial chemistry.

How did you come up with the book’s cover?
LL: Look no further than the alt.punk’s editor, Nathan Holic. I knew there was no one closer to the text and content of the novel than he was. I asked him to draw something, and he came back with a mock up, pretty much hitting it spot on.

In 10 words (no more, no less), describe your next project.
LL: Highlighting my childhood friends and hometown in quirky contemporary fiction.

Lavinia Ludlow, alt.punk, Casperian Books
bl pawelek, Ten Everywhere

Where are the penny universities?

This is a guest post by Caleb J Ross as part of his Stranger Will Tour for Strange blog tour. He will be guest-posting beginning with the release of his novel Stranger Will in March 2011 to the release of his second novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin and novella, As a Machine and Parts, in November 2011. If you have connections to a lit blog of any type, professional journal or personal site, please contact him. To be a groupie and follow this tour,subscribe to the Caleb J Ross blog RSS feed. Follow him on Twitter: @calebjross.com. Friend him on Facebook: Facebook.com/rosscaleb

In the eighteenth century, coffeehouses were often called “penny universities” due to the wealth of information available for the low price of a cup of coffee. Penny universities were unique in that they catered to people of all classes and economic statuses. A rich landowner could very comfortably be seated next to a poor farm worker. And with caffeine fueling conversation, you can imagine the conflicting personalities leading to heated conversation.

I romanticize the idea of a penny university, surely, as I would assume the lower class were merely tolerated, not embraced, as I imply above. I’m sure truly important conversation still took place behind closed doors. But that’s the magic of romantic yearnings. I get to assume everything was better in the past than it is today. Did you know that children were raised better in the past? Did you know that America was a universally loved country in the past? And in 40, 50, 100 years, people will look back and think these same things about the current time. The greatest minds ever to have lived didn’t die in 1996. The generally agreed upon greatest minds are ancient; Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Aristotle. The “Greatest Generation” isn’t one existing today. The only great Limp Bizkit album, the first one (I’ll defend this album to the death; everything else this band touched was atrocious).

This fallacy of nostalgia works the same with writing. According to Time Magazine, 82 of the greatest novels of all time were published pre-1980 (I know, the ratio is unfair, but still, I think this figure alludes to something important). The greatest author of all time, according to this suspicious looking website, is Shakespeare.

The term “greatest,” by definition, is an opinion, and as such keeps us motivated to create great the next greatest thing. The ego of the creator—whether of an inventor, a member of a grandiosely named generation, a product of a once-cool rap metal band, or a writer—is unique in that it strives to be eternal. What keeps this goal of an eternal life alive is the romance of the past.

Where do the eternal ideas get discussed today? Are penny universities still around? Is there a place where all walks gather for open intelligent discussion? Perhaps in the comments section of this post…hint, hint…

+ interview /// Best Behavior by Noah Cicero

In the preface to Best Behavior you talk about how you were setting out to write a book that would ‘define a generation’ – did you accomplish that goal?

See, this is my personal view of books that define a generation.  I don’t think they really define generations, but give voice to a social movement or a group experience.  Take The Naked and the Dead by Mailer, he defines in a way the experience of being in World War II.  A lot of older people liked that book.  But The Naked and the Dead didn’t give birth to a social movement, because World War II had a quick beginning and end, the war was over before the book was written and published.  Then there is On the Road by Kerouac which gave voice to the new artsy cliques that came out of the 30s.  Kerouac gave a voice to what it meant to be artsy in America.  Kerouac speaks to the kids out there who get really excited about arts classes, indie bands and English class.  But I don’t think Kerouac defined the generation of people who fought World War II.  Revolutionary Road I think defines the World War II generation more than On the Road, Revolutionary Road and a lot of Yates stories are like The Naked and the Dead continued.  The guys came back from World War II to move to nice quiet suburbs and live really boring lives as opposed to being shot at and traveling in carriers across the ocean and ending up in exotic places like Paris or the islands of the South Pacific. I knew one World War II vet, dead now, he talked about how he walked into a concentration camp and saw dead bodies just stacked on top of each other and how he could smell the dead bodies from miles away, and that sometimes the pain of those days would bother him extremely.  Well, when he got back to America, he moved into a nice little neighborhood, worked and had kids, just like in Revolutionary Road.  But Revolutionary Road goes even farther because the move to the suburbs was a social movement that is still with us today.  Books can do many things when it comes to generations, and I don’t even think that authors know the full implications of what their books will mean or do. An author, like everyone else, is a human being and has certain experiences, and the writer of literature writes about their personal experiences.  Kerouac and Yates had two different experiences in the 50s, both of them wrote about it honestly and with courage.  Which is what I try to do, I try to be honest and have courage when I write.  If the book defines a generation I don’t know, it might just be a historical document like Mailer, because I don’t know if this is a social movement.

On the surface of the book, it appears that the defining characteristics of this generation are ‘real boredom’ and a heavy sense of apathy, people who don’t have any interest in life – is this how you see your generation? What else is beneath these two most apparent descriptors?

In the 2010 midterm election only 12% of people under 30 voted, so yeah, apathy is very real with people under 30.  12% is a really dismal number.  See the thing about politics is that it is a grown-up activity, if you don’t participate in politics at all, you are basically saying that you don’t care about what happens to you and your country and your fellow citizens.  When you don’t vote or at least express a facebook status opinion or at least read some of the on the issues site before you vote, you are still consenting.  When you don’t vote you are saying to the politicians, “Do what you want, what you will, I am your slave.”

My generation doesn’t ‘believe’ in things, they ‘like’ things.  They like cell phones, flat screen televisions, and computers.  They are weak, afraid of toil, afraid of hard work.  The difference can be seen easily when compared to Mexican Americans, the Mexican will walk through the desert, dig a hole under a fence, walk, seriously walk and find a job with nothing but a backpack.  Then they will live with six other Mexicans in a small apartment.  The young native born American doesn’t even want to share an apartment with anyone else but their boyfriend or girlfriend.  They are so selfish and obsessed with comfort that they can’t share anything.  They don’t like to share.  They don’t like discomfort.  Go to one of these Mcmansion neighborhoods and get one of those kids that got a 28 on their ACTs and gets good grades, take em, give em a bookbag, place in  Guadalajara and say, “Get from  Guadalajara to Chicago with nothing but a backpack,” and see how they do.  Most Americans are afraid of driving through black or Hispanic neighborhoods.  Most Americans are afraid of walking.  When I was in LA, I asked people if they walked to the store ever, and they were like, “No.”

It really isn’t even our fault, we’ve been raised in such clean safe places.  We live in the richest most powerful empire in the world, we have had comfortable silly little lives, which has produced comfort loving silly little adults.

My earlier book The Insurgent discusses this topic, and focuses on the lead characters trying to escape it.

Best Behavior is very closely related to your own life, your personal existence and experiences – can you talk to us about how much of this book comes from your history, how much of it has a relationship with your own experiences traveling to New York, meeting other writers, and working menial jobs in Youngstown?

The early part of the book that takes place in Youngstown is basically true.  Most of the dialogue in New York City is made up, the situations and order of events are there, but the dialogue is made up.  I really didn’t have enough personal experience with the people from New York to make true dialogues. I mean, I had spent hours upon hours with the people from Youngstown and could gather dialogue from the many conversations I had with them. What I  mean is that I had 20 conversations with a certain person from Youngstown, and could pick out the best conversation pieces and make a dialogue out of it.  I have had very few experiences with the people from New York, so I had to make things up to make it more entertaining.  And the conversations were somewhat boring, because when I spoke to Brandon Scott Gorrell for the first time, it was really basic questions about Seattle and how much their apartments are and he asking me what the cost of living is like in Ohio, really boring stuff, I had to mix it up. I also wanted the dialogue in New York to reflect a certain philosophy.  Also some of the opinions in the book aren’t really my opinions, some reviewers have mistakenly said they were mine, but they were the characters’.  I mean, Benny Baradat is really me. None of my lead characters are, they are like some hyper philosophical part of my personality, if you were my friend, like we hung out in person all the time.  My concrete in reality personality that supplies data of who I am, is more like a slightly sarcastic guy who forgets things constantly, wears swimming trunks as soon as it gets 70 degrees outside even when I’m not swimming, who makes bad sex jokes, is mostly quiet, asks people way too many questions, has a hard time with small talk, has an awkward facial expression most of the time, soft spoken, prone to mumbling, bad at guitar, absurdly punctual, I’ve only missed two days of work since 1997.   In reality I’m not a person who drinks a lot or does drugs a lot, or sits up in the middle of the night on Molly reading Emily Dickinson.  I do Walt Whitman out loud almost everyday, at least one poem, and for fun right now I’m reading Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on Law.  Which is not exciting, maybe it is to some people, I don’t know.

Youngstown is a focal point in this book, and it factors into several of your previous titles as well in either surface mentions or in more detailed examination. Do you ever see yourself writing a book that is completely separate and apart from Youngstown? If so, what would it look like? And if not, why not?

I would love to write a book that didn’t take place in Youngstown.  I’m moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, tomorrow and I hope that something there provides me with a story.  I hear that Cormac McCarthy lives there, so maybe I’ll start writing like Cormac McCarthy.

I also want to write a book about politics, I have been researching politics for like the last five years and just got a political science degree.  But writing about politics is very hard.  You either write a scholarly book which requires a grant so you can do research like surveys or in the field research.  But I don’t have the money for that. If you aren’t a scholar you have to write a book that is either liberal or republican, which I don’t want to do either.  So I have two basic restrictions that are making things difficult.

1. I don’t have grant money.

2. I don’t want to write a book that promotes the republicans or democrats.

I believe that originality comes from restrictions, when you say to yourself, “I will not write this type of line.  I will not have that type of scene.  I will not use those type of emotions or gimmicks.”  The restrictions will funnel you into a certain mode of writing and thinking, which I think can lead to originality.  I think it leads to originality because once you close something off, when you refuse to write a certain type of sentence, then you are forcing yourself to think your way out of it, to create a different type of sentence or thought or view or character.

You quite frequently post rough draft versions of manuscripts on your blog before they are published – including an early version of Best Behavior if I’m not mistaken – why do you do this and what effect has it had on your readership or publication prospects, either negative or positive? Specifically, how did Best Behavior make the leap from a super long post on your blog to a published title from Civil Coping Mechanisms?

I wrote Best Behavior without the introduction and epilogue and put it on my blog.  I believe CCM emailed me about publishing it.  So I took it down.  I actually can’t remember.  Then I went to New York City again and had more experiences.  When I returned things were different, more bleak and sadder.  I wanted to express that things had changed.  And I also removed 50 pages from the Youngstown part.  See the thing about a book that contains young people, is that the young people ‘move on’ from the book.  The characters in The Lord of the Flies or On the Road grew up and became middle-aged adults with children and one day got very old and had to worry about life insurance and grandkids.  So the epilogue was a little snapshot of what happened a little further into the future.  Things are so different from that time though, that was two years and most of the people contained in the book aren’t even in NYC anymore.  Two years ago no one was making any money writing excerpt for Tao Lin, but several people have books with bigger publishers now or are very close to getting signed by major publishers.  I really wanted to show with the magazine thing and the movie thing at the end, that things were changing.  The book is a lot about change, changing from Youngstown to NYC, from a good economy to a bad one, from Bush to Barack, from being little writers in our early 20s to slowly building an audience.  Another thing I wanted to express was that some had not given up on the American dream, that the writers in it, still believed that things were possible.  A lot of cynicism exists in America, they believe that nothing can go right, that everything is bad and wrong.  I don’t think us internet writers are cynics – apathetic, could be said, but not cynical.  I don’t think we would shop at Whole Foods or Traders Joes, start gardens, travel all around, toil away at reading and writing if we were cynical.  But I admit that is what is different about us than most of the other young people, most young people are cynical and self-defeating.  But I don’t think we are.

Buy this book here. Read more about / from Noah Cicero here.

The Monkeybicycle Lightning Round: The Day After

I’d like to extend a very large thank you to everyone who came out to last night’s Lightning Round event, and especially to all the fantastic readers. We had no clue what to expect when this idea took form, but it seemed to grow legs pretty quickly. I think our Facebook event page got up to something like 125 “Attending” replies, and people started talking. The Village Voice made the event their “voice choice” for the day, which certainly helped to spread the word, too.

I don’t know that we got 125 attendees–I doubt people who reply to things on Facebook really see them as actual commitments–but that dark little basement at Cake Shop was packed to be sure. It was a great night for women, for Monkeybicycle, and for literature. So, thank you to all of you, and I hope we’ll see you at the next Lightning Round!

Also: Julia Jackson very graciously covered the event for Electric Literature. You can read her assessment of the evening and see some photos here.

 

review + /// Best Behavior by Noah Cicero

I assume the word ‘generation’ implies a collection of people that were born and raised during certain eras in specific countries by a previous generation that has their own special name. But there are constants between the generations that must be recognized, everybody from every generation shits, eats, needs shelter, has sex, and doesn’t enjoy when bad things happen.

So the questions are: how do they shit, how did they inhabit those shelters, how did they have sex, and respond to bad things. I guess those are the questions, and here is a really long answer.

This is from the preface to Noah Cicero’s latest novel, Best Behavior, recently released from the experimentally focused indie press Civil Coping Mechanisms. The idea was that Cicero would sit at a Waffle House, re-read those books most commonly believed to have defined their generations (The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, etc.), and try to write his own generation-defining novel. And while I do not believe that Best Behavior is a book that defines our generation, it is a book that describes and classifies a portion of our generation, and even more specifically, a portion of our portion of writers, spread as they are between New York and places like Cicero’s Youngstown, Ohio.

Best Behavior is simultaneously autobiography and simple narrative, with a heavy emphasis on the pull of genealogy, the roots that have grown beneath people and how they keep them sometimes pinned where they are not sure they want to remain. This is the protagonist’s dilemma throughout Best Behavior, attempting to both understand where he is from and come to terms with where he is (or is not) heading. The memoir feel of Best Behavior is in fact this same predicament, but from Cicero’s perspective instead of our protagonist’s, as they are, really, one and the same.

Our fathers weren’t much. They would come home from work and take naps. They would bring us to a baseball game and not talk to us while we were there. Sometimes they would beat us for being annoying. Over half of my generation’s fathers had left them with their bitter mothers. It wasn’t terrible. We were Americans and had food, air-conditioning, and indoor plumbing. But people for whatever reason like to have their fathers around. And they like their fathers not to be jackasses. Which was a problem because consumerist attention deficit disorder based societies produce in mass jackasses. But we still like our jackasses to be around.

The most significant moments in Best Behavior are when Cicero allows the narrative to drift the farthest into this examination of lineage or pedigree, most specifically that of mothers and fathers (and lost mothers and fathers), and how relationships like these so often define who we are as young men and women. And in the end, after giving us so much about how life is hard and bad and rough and how so much of this hardness and badness and roughness is to be blamed on heredity, Cicero tells us that this ancestry is our fate, our destiny if we can be so cliché, and that escaping our roots is learning what they are instead of traveling states away, hoping to outrun them.

There was my father who carried huge cow carcasses from meat lockers to the cutting table, with his arms bulging and his face wincing. There was my mother working in the GM plant for 33 years. The people on the subway were not my people. I felt no hostility towards them. They had grown up somewhere different, with a  different set of labor and world views offered to them. They had to take it. I had to take mine. It was our fate.

[ stay tuned for our interview with Noah Cicero in the coming days ]

Buy this book here. Read more about / from Noah Cicero here.

 

This Wednesday: Lightning Round, Night of 20 Women

Just a reminder, everyone, that this Wednesday is the next edition of the Monkeybicycle Lightning Round! reading series. This time around, we’re celebrating the female voice in literature by having only women readers. It’s going to be pretty amazing. The line up includes: Hannah Assadi, Jami Attenberg, Kate Hill Cantrill, Laura Carney, Ann DeWitt, Claire Donato, Shelley Jackson, Rozi Jovanovic, Aya Karpinska, Catherine Lacey, Deb Olin Unferth, Dawn Raffel, Lauren Spohrer, Terese Svoboda, Lauren Waterman, Anya C. Yurchyshyn, and others.

Here are the details:

JULY 13th, 7PM
Cake Shop
152 Ludlow St. NYC
(J, M, Z or F to Delancey. Exit on the North side of Delancey at Essex. Walk north on Essex to Rivington. Left on Rivington. Right on Ludlow. Cake Shop will be on your right.)

We hope to see you there! You can RSVP on our Facebook event page if you’d like.

Ten Everywhere: Caleb J. Ross and the Stranger Will Tour For Strange

In 10 words (no more, no less), describe the Stranger Will Tour For Strange.
CR: 70 blog posts. No fiction. Damn, I miss writing stories.

Tell me the best and worst of this tour so far.
CR: I love reading the post comments. It’s what authors strive for more than readers; it’s the affirmation that the readers exist. The worst: dedicating a lot of time to writing a post and never getting that affirmation. Though I don’t need the verbal pat on the back, it feels good to get it. The second best part is when bloggers approach me to post at their sites. I am all about reader/writer interaction; this blog tour supports that love.

Gregory Frye site – What cartoon father are you, and what do you keep telling your cartoon child?
CR: Damn good question. Though not a father specifically, I think I’m Professor Farnsworth from Futurama. My intentions are pure, but I can’t help but circumnavigate lesson opportunities in favor of a crude joke. My kid, who is 2 ½ now, is at the age where he is absorbing all of my nonsense. So, for now I try to promote positivity (“Good news everyone”) but usually come across as the dorky father (“…you might want to read up on a condition known as wandering bladder.”)

HTML Giant site  – What is the one thing that you have written that will never be found by the Google search spiders?
CR: I wrote this amazing flash fiction piece called “the rel=”nofollow”” attribute. Good luck, Google.

Bull Men’s Fiction site – Did you send the letter to Swisher Sweets?
CR: I didn’t. The letter was originally sent to Drew Estate specifically regarding their super tasty ACID cigars (the editor of Bull Men’s Fiction thought the piece might work better as a stand-alone post if I dropped the model name). After having not heard back from Drew Estate, I was too busy crying to bother resending.

Matt Bell site – What was the last grotesque thing you have witnessed?
CR: My coworker can bend her index finger joint at a 90 degree angle. Why this creeps me out, I don’t know. I have a weird aversion to human digits. I can’t stand to have the tips of my toes touched.

Publishing Genius site – If a stranger asked you what you writing was like, what would you say?
CR: It’s like if Stephen King and James Patterson were combined…at the kidney.

Mel Bosworth’s site – From your small press world, what is your best experimental line?
CR: It’s hard to determine an experimental line without context. Though, if pulled, I’d say Shome Dasgupta’s i am here And You Are Gone offers some good ones, especially if you allow the definition of a “line” to be something as simple as a row of Os; he’s got more than a few instances of that.

NOO Journal site – “There is nothing quite as satisfying, for me, as re-writing an entire novel.” Really?
CR: Well, there are probably a few things better than re-writing an entire novel. But it is true that I find immense joy in rebuilding something that I through was so close to finished. Imagine, you are building a log cabin. Just as you are about to weave the final thatch for the roof, you realize something, an epiphany of sorts, that throws your entire ideal into question. And more than that, the epiphany is so strong that you are willing to start over from the ground up to realize your revised ideal. Persuasion that powerful just doesn’t happen often enough.

I love the cover of Stranger Will. How did it come about?
CR: Thank you. I’ve always had the idea of a lone bench and had been toying around with the image for some time before the book was even finished (I’m like a college garage band like that; naming ourselves before we even know how to play). When I happened upon Rémi Carreiro’s photo, I knew I wanted to work with it. However, the final design was actually only one of six possible covers. The publisher allowed me to leave the cover choice up to a vote. The Carreiro bench cover won.

I added the old man in the background and played with the colors a bit, but overall, the image stays true to Carreiro’s original.

In 10 words (no more, no less), describe your next project.
CR: An anti Stranger Will novel, still grotesque, that embraces parenthood.

Caleb J. Ross, Stranger Will Tour For Strange.

bl pawelek, Ten Everywhere