Iraq/Viet Nam/Korea - No Parallels.
[2061 words, est. reading time - 6:52] Interviewer: Alan C. Baird
An abbreviated version of this interview first appeared in the August 2003 issue of Friction Magazine:
ACB: What was the most outlandish thing you encountered during your trip?
SO: I saw a transvestite prostitute in chartreuse fishnet and a feather boa, standing next to a window display of whips and chains on Bourbon Street. But I hear that's not unusual for N'Awlins.
ACB: How does your book fit into this kind of conference?
SO: The Viet Nam wing of the Pop Culture convention is mainly a bunch of teachers who are trying to get the word out at various colleges that we once declared war on a bunch of rice paddies in the South Pacific. Most of the students don't believe them, so these educators get together periodically to convince each other that it really did happen. Some of the teachers are Viet Nam vets, and it's a tough sell.
Frankly, one of the most surprising things to me was that a war--er, conflict, since Viet Nam wasn't really a war, if it existed at all--would be considered Pop Culture. I mean, Pop Culture sounds like FUN! But I guess the conflict must've been fun for somebody, because it's all come around again.
ACB: Which of your stories from Don't Mean Nothing contain the closest parallels to our latest war?
SO: None of them. There are no parallels between Viet Nam and Iraq. None at all. Viet Nam was a faraway country full of dark-skinned people who spoke a funny language and ate weird food and worshiped oddball stuff. They threatened us with an ideology unlike our own, the U.S. government had ulterior motives for going there, and people protested in the streets.
It wasn't like Iraq.
ACB: Why did you decide to write fictional material about those wartime experiences?
SO: I realized that my memory sucked. A nonfiction book was out of the question: I'd have had to get off my lazy tush and call up people and perform heavy research in order to do justice to everybody involved, and then all of it would've been lies. Everybody's memories become revisionist after 25 or 30 years, including my would-be sources. So fiction seemed logical. It's also truer, I think--you don't have to play that journalism game of reporting only what you see and hear; you can dive into the heart of an issue, role-play, pick at motives and make massive assumptions. I like to say that fiction writers are just grownups with imaginary friends. This book gave me a chance to play with mine.
ACB: You've described yourself as a "commie hippie pinko protester." How did you wind up in the Army?
SO: I was sitting around in my nursing school dorm one day when a buddy stuck her head in the door and asked if I wanted to go to Chicago. It was a Saturday, and I'd just gotten back from the most exciting thing a person could do in that tiny burg: I'd been out campaigning door-to-door for Eugene McCarthy with a cute student named Warren, whom I'd been trying unsuccessfully to seduce (his strict religion didn't allow smoking, drugs, drinking or dancing, so I figured there was only one recreation left, but Warren seemed to feel differently). Did I want to go to Chicago? Duh.
So... I was bored, and I went, in spite of the fact that I knew Judy was going there to join the Army. See, she came from a long line of military types. Her little brother even went to a military academy because he wanted to go, not because his parents considered it a good alternative to juvenile lockup. So she was planning to carry on the family tradition.
While I waited for Judy to sign everything in triplicate, the recruiting sergeant turned his high-beams on me. He said the Army would give me money for my last year of school, then they'd send me all over the world to meet hot guys in uniforms. Hawaii, he said. Germany. Japan. But I was no fool. I said: Yeah, what about Viet Nam?
He laughed: You don't have to worry about Viet Nam. There's a waiting list of nurses a mile long for Viet Nam. You couldn't get there if you tried.
So I thought, Wow! I could get money, travel, and a double dose of irony, all at the same time. Wait until my friends heard that I, the hippie pinko commie folk singer, had joined the Army. It was better than getting pregnant, and the commitment was only two years.
All of which goes to show you - not all commies are intellectuals.
So they gave me a physical, which consisted of shoving a mirror under my nose to see if I was breathing. I passed, even though my eyesight was obviously faulty: the recruiting sergeant had been only two feet away, and I couldn't see his nose growing longer.
ACB: Were you a good little soldier?
SO: I was a decent nurse, but a terrible soldier. To begin with, I can't tell right from left without putting a big red R on my right sneaker. So I was in trouble at Fort Sam Houston, because the whole point of basic training is to learn how to march. This involves a lot of rights and lefts, complicated by the fact that you're singing dirty lyrics at the same time.
I figured it would be all right once I got to Viet Nam, because I'd be too busy to march. Everything was fine until they deflated my first hospital (it was made of inflatable rubber segments, which can be a little dicey when there are rockets and mortars flying around) and sent me to Chu Lai, which wasn't a very busy place. And if things aren't busy in a war zone, then the real soldiers have time to nitpick. So I was in the Officer's Club, a plywood shack where the officer caste went to get drunk among their own so the enlisted caste couldn't make fun of them, and some good music was playing, so I took off my combat boots to dance. The next thing I knew, the head nurse was chewing me out for disrespecting the uniform. I politely asked her to transfer me to someplace where she wasn't, and she snarled, "I'll send you to the biggest hell-hole in Viet Nam." And she did, which was good because it was so busy, nobody cared if I boogied in bare feet.
I later found out she'd put a note on my record forbidding anybody to give me a Bronze Star because I danced without combat boots.
ACB: Did the USO shows contain much subliminal/political content?
SO: Standard USO shows were an art form deeply rooted in military symbolism. They began with a band of waif-like Korean women who played and sang "I Want to Hold Your Hand," to demonstrate the Asian desire to meld with Americans in a harmonious relationship that would ultimately elevate the culturally marginalized female gender--and, by extension, all downtrodden peoples--to a state of middle-class nirvana. The young women reinforced this yearning for symbiosis with the heartfelt ballad "Green Green Grass of Home," in which they expressed the pain of their imprisonment in a cruel land. That the artists were Korean was, of course, allegorical for the plight of Viet Nam, but it also highlighted the historical similarities between Viet Nam and their own country. This was made clear in their reenactment of the ceremonial Korean dance, performed by three beautiful women in traditional costumes. Since America freed Korea in the 50's, one could not escape the parallels. I saw many tears drop on fatigue-covered bosoms, let me tell you, when those young women flicked their fans.
Finally, the tallest of the three dancers was left alone onstage to shed her traditional garb and dance to the plaintive song about a woman sold into sexual slavery in New Orleans in a place called the House of the Rising Sun, which symbolized the WWII enslavement of Korean women by the Japanese, the kingdom of the Rising Sun. The image was riveting and strangely moving, as she cast away layer upon layer of clothing, just as Viet Nam was casting away its commitment to Communism. The end was especially inspiring, when the "enslaved" dancer, naked and supine on the stage, symbolically and repeatedly moved her hips with the help of a long, sheer strategically-placed silk scarf. The show seldom varied but for the color of the scarf; I believe each different color symbolized yet another country waiting for America's courageous fighting men to perform acts of liberation upon it.
ACB: If you were that age now, would you have chosen to serve in Iraq?
SO: God, I hope my learning curve is steeper than that.
ACB: The web has brought us Iraq's-most-wanted playing cards and Baghdad Bob talking dolls. What Internet crazes might have existed during the Viet Nam era?
SO: I personally would've liked to see Barbie's Army Jeep and Saigon Dream Hooch. They would've been perfect for the Combat Nurse Barbie. Which actually existed. The realities of Viet Nam usually beat the hell out of anything I could make up. This is still the case: when I went back to Viet Nam in 1999, I bought a whole pack of marvelous Ho Chi Minh postcards. These were serious items, meant to impress foreigners with Uncle Ho's majesty, his humanity, his approachability. One of them showed him in a sailor suit that looked exactly like the one worn by the guy in the Village People. It's just impossible to improve on stuff like that. Or the Cu Chi Tunnels, which have now become a tourist attraction, complete with a booth where visitors can try on Viet Cong uniforms, and special tunnel entrances enlarged to accommodate Western fannies.
ACB: Some material from Don't Mean Nothing has appeared in Brazil. How did that come about?
SO: I was doing a Google search on myself (the writer's equivalent of an ego trip) and I found a magazine called SpeakUp!, which is published in Brazil and helps Brazilians learn English. The first story in my collection, "The Boy From Montana," was printed in it and was also read aloud on the CD that is sold as part of the magazine. I figured they'd pirated it from Amazon, where that story is printed in its entirety as an excerpt from the book. But what could I do? It was Brazil. So I was going to let it slide, but then read the editorial which apologized for raising the price of the print version of SpeakUp! The reason for the increase was blamed on the cost of the stories, which had gone up so much.
Well, this pissed me off, because nobody had paid for my story. At least, they hadn't paid ME! So I posted a letter in their online forum saying I thought it was pretty shabby for them to lie in order to increase their profit margin. Next thing I knew, I was exchanging e-mails with the editor, who gave me some bull about getting my story from his parent company and not knowing it was pirated, and so on and so on. Well, I showed him! I insisted that he keep the story, but said I'd only give him another one if he promised to buy me a beer when I get to São Paulo.
Other interviews: The Lazy Mick (Jim Ruland, 11/2004) + Gay and Lesbian Weddings (David Toussaint, 12/2004).
The Graphic Sex Interview with Robin Slick.
[1639 words, est. reading time - 5:27] Interviewer: Alan C. Baird
This piece first appeared in the January 2005 issue of SFWP:
ACB: Your book is pretty steamy. Is it a kiss-and-tell?
RS: Kissing? There was no kissing. There were crops and clamps and bondage tape, but nope, no kissing.
Actually, it's a book about a character in midlife crisis, unhappy in her marriage and career and wistful about roads not taken and wishing someone would ride up on a big-assed horse and save her. So it's more chick lit than anything. Chick lit with graphic sex.
ACB: So, the next time you write a book like this, can I be in it?
RS: I'm holding auditions. How do you feel about swinging from a trapeze?
ACB: Will you add a few inches to my... statistics?
RS: Why? Will I need to?
ACB: No, no, of course not. But, er, just in case: will you accept a check?
RS: From you? No way. But I do take PayPal.
ACB: Okey-doke, moving right along. Three Days in New York City is based on a shorter piece that was nominated for a Best American Short Story award. Has the adulation gone to your head?
RS: Hell, yeah. I so rule! Did you see who won this year? Alice Munro and Annie Proulx! I mean, am I in good company or what?
Okay, the truth: I found out after being nominated--and this is really sad--that the editor of the magazine in which my story appeared had missed the BASS submission deadline, so my nomination papers were returned, unread. That means technically, I was nominated, but um... none of the judges ever saw my story. But hey, that also means I didn't lose!
ACB: You were raised by an artistic family - does that make your approach to writing different from those of us who grew up with non-artists?
RS: I dunno. I do have a lot of material from all the insanity that went on, and I know I'm severely damaged. But I suppose there's probably a scientific reason for that. You know, genetics, a right-brain kind of thing: warped parents = warped children.
ACB: Weren't you once related to a pop-music legend?
RS: Well, not blood relatives. My husband was cousin to Grace Slick's ex-husband. But she wasn't a pop musician. She was rock, baby.
ACB: I used to have a schnauzer named Gracie...
RS: I'm happy for you, Ace. But this is about ME. Now what were you saying about your statistics?
ACB: Very little, sadly. Why do you blog? Isn't it the ultimate navel-gazing activity?
RS: Yep, my point exactly. Mental masturbation. It's almost as good as the real thing. I'm so addicted I need a twelve-step program. I use it for everything from uploading excerpts of my new novel to posting pics of my kiddies to kvetching about how awful it is to have a day job.
ACB: You recently helped launch a new print magazine and pledged to write a NaNoWriMo novel in thirty days. Meanwhile, you're an editor at NFG and Philadelphia Stories, in addition to holding down the aforementioned day job. Have you cloned yourself?
RS: Can that be done? Do you know how? Teach me, please! I need to do it, I'm ready to pass the fuck out. It's funny, though. I get exhausted doing one load of laundry or making one photocopy at work, but when it comes to reading and writing and editing, I have unlimited energy. Hm. I wonder why.
ACB: You've participated in National Novel Writing Month a few times. Have you gotten any usable material from it?
RS: Actually, I got three novels out of NaNo. Okay, I'm lying. I got two and a third. The one-third is this year and I'm way behind schedule, but I'll manage it somehow. I don't know why, but NaNo really works for me. The first year out, 2002, I knew I had a novel in me that wanted to be written, about living with an alcoholic. Now THAT's a kiss-and-tell story. And it was amazing: I had a 50,000-word book within thirty days. I still haven't done anything with it, though; my plan is to turn it into a sequel to the novel I'm writing now about the jazz/rock scene. But anyway, I needed the discipline to actually sit down and do it, and I love a challenge, so when I heard about NaNo, I decided that would be the catalyst to get me started.
Last year, I had already written the short story version of Three Days in New York City, and NaNo is when it all came together as a novel.
This year I'm writing about touring with my rock-star kiddies across America. It's straight nonfiction, which should be easy, but oh my God, I'm so freaking bored. I can hear this monotone voice in my brain, just relating the facts. I'm dying to make up lies, just so it'll be more interesting.
ACB: You also went on a European tour with your rock-star kids. What's the most outrageous incident from that summer?
RS: Well, if you must know... it was a music festival in Germany, held outdoors with a Woodstock atmosphere. It was like time had frozen. Men and women with waist-length hair and tie-dye shirts were dropping acid. Anyway, backstage was just like you'd imagine at any rock concert: an open bar, all kinds of drugs, and groupies and hangers-on. But the bizarre thing was - these weren't typical rock stars because this wasn't a typical rock festival. It was a four-day extravaganza devoted to the music of Frank Zappa, called Zappanale.
It was held in this little town in East Germany--Bad Doberan--where the central square actually features a bronze bust of Zappa, the way other town squares might have a war hero or something. It was hilarious. The town's whole economy relies on this annual event.
Anyway... for all these years, I've kept my one vice hidden from my kids. And I really have only one vice. I was never a drinker, didn't smoke cigarettes, hated hard drugs--although I'm not going to lie and say I didn't try them--but my one vice is pot. Now my kids, they're drug nazis. They equate pot to heroin. To them, all drugs are bad, and I suppose if I were a normal mother, this would make me ecstatic. I mean, I'm not a stoner who wakes up smoking; I enjoy a joint before I go to bed the way people enjoy a glass of wine. But I always kept it secret. I smoked when the kids weren't home or asleep, and I always burned incense and sprayed Lysol. Well, everything was great until one day last year: I didn't expect them home and left my bedroom door open. Then one of their musician friends showed up with them and said, "Yo dudes, your house reeks, man!"
This was how I was outed. The kiddies did an intervention. I was humiliated. Swore I'd never do it again.
So we go to Zappanale and I'm backstage at a fucking rock-and-roll festival. I'm standing there talking to all of these legendary musicians who have played with Zappa - names which will mean nothing to most people but if you love Zappa you'll be just so impressed: Jimmy Carl Black, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Ike Willis. Anyway, I'm hanging out, drinking beer with them, joking around, when Ike pulls out some black hash. Now, I'm sorry, but I haven't seen black hash in like twenty years. There's just no way I can pass on that. I look around and my kids are doing a sound check so I quickly join the, uh, smoking circle. We're passing the pipe back and forth and it tastes so good, I can't believe it. I'm wishing I was brave enough to buy some of this and smuggle it home with me. We're talking music and discussing Zappa and John Lennon with whom many of these guys have played and I'm so fucking into it that I'm not keeping track of my teenagers. All of a sudden, I look up and these two sets of eyes are staring at me... completely and justifiably mortified.
The kiddies took off and I had to run after them through the woods screaming, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and feeling like the worst parent in the entire world. I mean, how could I explain it? "Listen kids, Mom hasn't seen black hash in twenty years, you've got to make an exception..." No, instead I had to sit there and get a lecture on the horrific risk I took, that I could be spending the rest of my life in a foreign jail, and what a bad example I've set.
But it all worked out. I apologized, didn't do it again, and hell, I must be doing something right: both kids are on the Dean's List at their respective colleges and they're about to become very famous. A movie's been made about their music and the tour called Rock School, and Newmarket Films bought it. It's coming to a theater near you in March.
Ironically, the movie culminates at Zappanale and there's a shot of me dancing in the audience, completely wasted.
Note: Robin Slick is a music-obsessed fiction writer living in downtown Philadelphia with a secret fantasy to jump in a time machine and relocate to Britain in the 1960s. Short stories have appeared in print and on the web everywhere from In Posse Review to Clean Sheets.
Alan C. Baird is the instigator of an interview series entitled LitCom.org. He recently moved to the desert near Palm Springs, where he enjoys making fun of golfers and referring to himself in the third person.
An Interview with the Angriest Author in the World. David Bulley discusses his theories on the topic of suckage.
[546 words, est. reading time - 1:49] Interviewer: Alan C. Baird
This piece first appeared in the May 2003 issue of Über:
ACB: You once promised "never to teach creative writing, anywhere, ever." Why?
DB: A certain writing teacher, who has extremely poor taste, slammed one of my stories. I mean this guy's fiction really sucks. So I blurted out that quote... and then noticed the sigh of relief from my fellow classmates. I wanted them to giggle, but instead they just wiped the sweat off their brows and thought, "Phew! One of you is more than enough." I could see it in their beady little eyes. Their writing sucks, too.
ACB: Do your kids like to boast their dad's an author?
DB: Yeah, I guess. But at the last PTA meeting, some idiot walked up to me and said, "You must be Arthur. Nice to meet you." So I hauled off and decked him. That guy also sucks.
ACB: Why is Maine the setting for so much of your prose?
DB: In the north woods, where they lack any formal education, or even simple manners, people invent language as they go. Sometimes you don't know what they said, but they said it in a way that was not quite as boring as most chatter. Ultimately, though, they suck.
ACB: Your novel's main character wants to kill God. Have you ever reached this frame of mind?
DB: Let me lay it out for you, dickhead: Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and God got so pissed at them that he decided all the people born after that would inherit their original sin. I thought, "What a prick." Then I thought, "Somebody ought to kill that bastard. He sucks."
ACB: Weapon in Heaven pushes a lot of religious hot buttons: for example, a minister gets caught in a homosexual encounter with a young boy. Were you trying to get banned in Boston?
DB: Abso-fucking-lutely. I don't have gazillions of dollars for marketing or hiring publicists who could book me on the cool TV talk shows, so I figured the only way to get noticed was to tick someone off. It isn't working, so all I can say to those sicko pervert media types is: "You suck."
ACB: You grew up, as you say, "ugly Baptist." Did that childhood environment have anything to do with the subject matter of this book?
DB: If a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, does it affect the weather patterns over Saskatoon? Of COURSE, Shitferbrains! What the hell is wrong with you?
ACB: Okay, we should probably wrap this up before you pop me in the nose. Do you have any final words on the philosophy of writing?
DB: People think in stories; they relate to each other through stories, and they learn everything they ever learned through stories. The most important job in the universe is that of the storyteller. We expand people's awareness, let them keep stories they didn't earn through experience, and enrich their lives. Plus we allow them to dream, for just a little while, that their pathetic meaningless lives don't suck.
Alan C. Baird is Über's angry-author liaison.
You say saguaro, I say sah-WAH-roe. The saguaro is the largest cactus in the U.S., and its pure white waxy blossom is the state flower of Arizona. The plant's water-storage system is so efficient that, even after years of extreme drought, it retains enough moisture in reserve to produce flower buds. The saguaro very slow growing, often taking up to 75 years to develop its first "arm." Some specimens may live for more than 200 years. Heights of more than 50 feet and weights of more than 5 tons have been reported.
Out here, they're everywhere. I found this beauty on the eastern outskirts of Mesa:
Man in Maze... symbol of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. This legend, which is taught to all Pima-Maricopa children, depicts the experiences which occur during the journey through the maze of life. While negative events happen, children are told that, ultimately, each person can discover a physical, mental, social and spiritual balance. At the center of the maze are one's dreams and goals. Upon reaching the center, each person is met by the Sun God, who blesses and greets us and passes us on to the next world.
Reservation boundary marker (w/closeup), Via de Ventura @ Pima Freeway/101:
Valley of the Blogs... in the Valley of the Sun:
ASU blogs (DEFUNCT), and
GeoURL-tagged sites (DEFUNCT).
LATER: see also - Arizona word culture, PHX metro bloggers w/Juice.
Rub Her Ducky. Maryanne Stahl: an interview on the Writing, and also the Sex.
[1157 words, est. reading time - 3:51] Interviewer: Alan C. Baird
This piece first appeared in the April 2003 issue of Reinventing The World:
Novelist Maryanne Stahl "lives on a lake with her dog, cats, ducks, humans and other wild creatures." Originally from New York, she's a folk artist and teaches English at Kennesaw State University, near Atlanta. Ms. Stahl's second book, The Opposite Shore, will be on bookshelves in August 2003, but she continues to relentlessly flog Forgive the Moon, which came out in June 2002.
ACB: Do you still consider yourself a New Yorker?
MS: Certainly. I'm also a Southern belle, Italian by descent and Eurotrash by inclination. Both of my books have New York area settings (Montauk and Shelter Island), as will my third (cue suspense music). I make seasonal migrations to the city, so I consider this place to be my muse and bitch goddess, all at the same time. You can take the girl out of New York but you can't keep her from drinking Manhattans.
ACB: You've been described as a "folk artist known throughout the South-[who] uses painting as a theme in her fiction." What type of folk art do you create?
MS: You name it. I use "found" materials--old barn board, roof tin, etc.--and just, um, make stuff. Often animals. I also do paintings, really un-accomplished oil paintings, which is another way of saying "just folk." But I'm known only throughout the South end of my cul-de-sac.
ACB: You teach university-level writing courses. Does the activity of grading student papers provide a different perspective on your own work?
MS: Yes. It makes me long for the time to do it!
ACB: How do your students respond to Forgive the Moon? Have many of them read it? Are they required to?
MS: Most of them think it's cool to have a teacher who is a "real" writer. A few read it, even though it's not a requirement! In fact, I told one young man last semester not to read it; I suggested he give it to his mother instead.
ACB: Many of the closely-observed details in your book sound quite personal. How much of this novel was borrowed from your family experience/history?
MS: Very few of the details. I've never played the violin and my mother didn't die in a car crash. In fact, she was alive when I began the book. Things such as landscape--the beach at Montauk, for example--are of course from my own observations, although my family did not have an annual vacation there when I was growing up. Our first Long Island holiday inspired the book, but I used a combination of real and imagined locations. As to the emotional content, well, how could it not come from personal experience?
ACB: What was your family's reaction to Forgive?
MS: They loved it!
ACB: During the process of finding a publisher for this book, was there a specific turning point?
MS: I think it was a matter of getting the manuscript to the right person at the right time--which takes some skill on the agent's part, and a lot of random good fortune. My publisher (New American Library/Penguin-Putnam) had just initiated a (gulp, cough, sputter) "women's fiction" line and my editor was looking for a book. She thought Forgive the Moon was perfect. But she told me that had she read it six months earlier or six months later, she wouldn't have been in a position to buy it.
ACB: How would you define "women's fiction"?
MS: I wouldn't separate "women's" from "men's" novels. The label is a marketing tool. If The Corrections were written by Jane Franzen, it would be considered women's fiction.
ACB: Has the book-marketing experience matched your expectations?
MS: Not really. I got next to nothing in publicity support. Even my home paper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wouldn't review the book. (They're notoriously bad at supporting local writers. It's a travesty.) And my publisher allotted zero dollars toward marketing, which seems to be par for the course these days. In order to get publicity money, one needs to have a best seller. Makes sense, eh? (Luckily, the book has performed well. It "earned out" my advance during the first few months. Heh.)
ACB: Have you tried any online promotional activities?
MS: I'll try anything, but I find the most effective promotion to be riding a bus, sticking my arse out the window next to a sign saying "Forgive the Moon." But yes, I've done iVillage, workshops, book clubs, readings, conferences, book fairs and offered my firstborn grandduck in exchange for a review. That offer is still open, by the way.
ACB: Many of your short pieces have been published throughout cyberspace. When you began submitting to e-zines, were there any trepidations?
MS: I can't speak for the editors, but given my rowdy reputation, I sensed they published me primarily out of fear for their lives.
ACB: You've edited several online publications. Why did you get involved in that side of the craft?
MS: I have great enthusiasm for online literary journals. Seems to me they're an ideal forum for short work--stories, poems, flash fiction--and I wanted to support them. Plus, I have a hard time saying no. (HEY: check out LiteraryPotpourri.com y'all!)
ACB: How have the editing gigs changed your writing?
MS: I don't know that they have, really, though editing in general, even when it's done in workshops, teaching, etc., does develop a critical eye. Is that always a boon to one's writing? Debatable.
ACB: Word has it that you host an invitation-only writer-salon-cum-free-for-all at Francis Ford Coppola's Virtual Studio, and that you're widely known as a modern version of Perle Mesta. Do these online social activities interfere with your work?
MS: You betcha. Why else would I do 'em?
ACB: Do you feel a strong kinship with other writers?
MS: Absolutely. So much so, I sometimes think I'm Sylvia Plath or Alice B. Toklas or--and this is very scary--even you.
ACB: But you'd never interview me.
MS: One must maintain certain standards.
ACB: You've just completed your second novel. Was the experience of writing that book different from the first?
MS: Very much so. More pressure, fewer drugs.
ACB: Does that mean caffeine, alcohol, or other mind-altering substances play a part in your writing?
MS: Yes. Sometimes the handsome prince, sometimes the rogue scoundrel, and sometimes the court foole.
ACB: Are you a disciplined writer?
MS: Sure, I occasionally enjoy being blindfolded, tied up with silk cords and... Oh. No. Not at all.
ACB: Your novel's cover features the phrase "Fiction for the Way We Live." What does that mean?
MS: It means, of course, if you don't buy my bloody book, my ducks and I will perish from the face of the earth.
ACB: Speaking of ducks, I understand that a family of them recently waddled into your second book, just before it was sent off to the publisher. What do ducks symbolize in your work?
MS: Sex. Or, more likely, the lack of it.
Any intellectual property yet, honey? The New Yorker cartoon by Mike Twohy:
Lost in Translation. Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a has-been movie actor, is in Tokyo to make a whiskey commercial, but he doesn't speak Japanese. His director (Yutaka Tadokoro), a talkative Japanese hipster, speaks no English. In this scene from Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, Bob tries to understand the director through a demure interpreter (Akiko Takeshita), who is either unable or unwilling to translate all the director's babbling.
Bob is lost... and without subtitles, so is the audience. Here's the all-English version:
DIRECTOR (in Japanese, to the interpreter): The translation is very important, okay? The translation.
INTERPRETER: Yes, of course. I understand.
DIRECTOR: Mr. Bob-san. You are sitting quietly in your study. And then there is a bottle of Suntory whiskey on top of the table. You understand, right? With wholehearted feeling, slowly, look at the camera, tenderly, and as if you are meeting old friends, say the words. As if you are Bogie in Casablanca, saying, "Cheers to you guys, Suntory time!"
INTERPRETER (in English, to Bob): He wants you to turn, look in camera. Okay?
BOB: That's all he said?
INTERPRETER: Yes, turn to camera.
BOB: Does he want me to, to turn from the right or turn from the left?
INTERPRETER (in very formal Japanese, to the director): He has prepared and is ready. And he wants to know, when the camera rolls, would you prefer that he turn to the left, or would you prefer that he turn to the right? And that is the kind of thing he would like to know, if you don't mind.
DIRECTOR (very brusquely, and in much more colloquial Japanese): Either way is fine. That kind of thing doesn't matter. We don't have time, Bob-san, okay? You need to hurry. Raise the tension. Look at the camera. Slowly, with passion. It's passion that we want. Do you understand?
INTERPRETER (in English, to Bob): Right side. And, uh, with intensity.
BOB: Is that everything? It seemed like he said quite a bit more than that.
DIRECTOR: What you are talking about is not just whiskey, you know. Do you understand? It's like you are meeting old friends. Softly, tenderly. Gently. Let your feelings boil up. Tension is important! Don't forget.
INTERPRETER (in English, to Bob): Like an old friend, and into the camera.
DIRECTOR: You understand? You love whiskey. It's Suntory time! Okay?
DIRECTOR: Okay? Okay, let's roll. Start.
BOB: For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
DIRECTOR: Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut! (Then he speaks to Bob in a very male form of Japanese, like a father speaking to a wayward child.) Don't try to fool me. Don't pretend you don't understand. Do you even understand what we are trying to do? Suntory is very exclusive. The sound of the words is important. It's an expensive drink. This is number one. Now do it again, and you have to feel that this is exclusive. Okay? This is not an everyday whiskey you know.
INTERPRETER: Could you do it slower and...
DIRECTOR: With more ecstatic emotion.
INTERPRETER: More intensity.
DIRECTOR: Suntory time! Roll.
BOB: For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
DIRECTOR: Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut! God, I'm begging you.
Roses on His Piano, Tulips on His Organ. Author Grant Jarrett talks about everything *but* flowers.
[1252 words, est. reading time - 4:10]
This piece appeared in the December 2003 issue of Exquisite Corpse (Andrei Codrescu's online literary journal):
The younger brother of a world-renowned jazz pianist, Grant Jarrett has authored More Towels, a memoir of his travels around the country with a series of mostly unremarkable bands. He describes a world in which talent is far less essential than a charming smile and the willingness to wear ruffled polyester shirts, a world where getting laid is far more enjoyable, and a hell of a lot easier, than mastering one's instrument. Mr. Jarrett now lives in New York City, where he earns his "paltry living" as an editor and freelance writer.
ACB: Before we get started, are there any topics you'd rather avoid?
GJ: No. My life is an open sore.
ACB: OK, let's get this out of the way right up front: your famous big brother, Keith, isn't half as good a musician as you, is he?
GJ: Have you heard any of his concerts? Even HE can't help moaning about how bad he is.
ACB: When you two were kids, did you ever want to beat him up?
GJ: Well, Keith is older, much older. YEARS older. I like to think of him as Antediluvian. And I'm taller and far better looking. But in answer to your question, when I was a kid I was too busy inventing new masturbation techniques involving butterscotch topping and nocturnal vermin to worry about Keith.
ACB: During your childhood music instruction, what was the most outrageous thing you did to get out of practicing?
GJ: It really wasn't an issue. My one and only drum teacher was an inveterate drug addict who, during my lessons, would go into a trancelike state and spit out random phrases like, "Lemme hear some fours on the chandelier," and "I think my toe joints are reversed," and "What rodent?" During one lesson, I was able to pick his pockets, put him in a crate and ship him off to Wichita.
ACB: Do you continue to play the drums these days?
GJ: No, but I still jerk off with clocklike regularity.
ACB: Do you ever hear from your old band-mates?
GJ: I still have a few good friends from those days. As far as the others go, every so often I receive a note from someone I worked with back then, but my attorney assures me I can ignore those letters unless they look official.
ACB: Can you compare the feeling of publishing a book to the experience of playing music for an audience?
GJ: Most of the time I simply did not enjoy performing. I have a good ear, so I was always suffering; I heard every note, and was obsessively focused on my technique. Also, when you're playing live, you can't go back and redo something, whereas when you publish a book, you have the luxury of revising until it's complete gibberish.
ACB: What do you get from writing that you didn't get from music?
GJ: Sometimes I enjoy writing. That in itself is different. But more than that, I enjoy having written. And I have an almost, pathological, fondness, for, commas. In my twenties, I was obsessed with colons, but a sadistic proctologist cured me of that.
ACB: Is there a hidden meaning in the phrase "More Towels"?
GJ: When you play music until two or three in the morning, and you spend the next several hours either getting laid or trying like hell to get laid or bemoaning the fact that you didn't get laid, you really don't want the hotel maid to make up your room at the crack of dawn. So when she pounds on the door and says, "Maid Service," you just get up, fold the trampoline and let her out. Sorry, that's an old joke. What you really say is, "No thanks. Just more towels."
ACB: What subjects are covered in your book?
GJ: Certainly there is debauchery and violence and death and even a sizeable helping of insanity within its pages. And then there's the coming-of-age aspect and the life-of-a-mediocre-musician stuff. The reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (some of which I did NOT write) are unanimous in their praise of the book's humor. But I think *More Towels* is mostly about toxic desperation, and the extreme measures we take in an effort to conquer it. The material is intended to be funny, but it also expresses my awe of how we get from here to there, and of the astonishing potential that seems to reside in all of us. Maybe it's also about how I came to be a writer. Many times, I could have easily wound up in prison or dead. But somehow I ended up in New York instead.
ACB: Why New York?
GJ: I guess I just felt I hadn't suffered enough. And it's impossible to find good butterscotch topping in Cleveland.
ACB: How does your wife feel about all the hanky-panky mentioned in your book?
GJ: Oh my God! Maybe THAT'S what she's so pissed off about.
ACB: Is she a musician or writer?
GJ: Joanna's naturally creative and quite talented, but she makes her living as... Damn. I really have to ask her about that, if and when she decides to talk to me again.
ACB: You recently became a father - how has that changed your outlook?
GJ: Now when I find myself sitting in a corner shivering and weeping, it has much less to do with existential panic than filthy diapers.
ACB: Will you push your son into becoming a musician?
GJ: I'll encourage him to do almost anything he wants, as long as he can support me in the fashion to which I'd like to become accustomed by the time he's got all his teeth. Which, at the rate he's going, should be in about twenty minutes.
ACB: From what I understand, he has his father's literary proclivities. Can you give us an example?
GJ: My boy recently uttered his first words. If you have a baby, or are involved in a relationship with someone from Kentucky, you know how exciting this can be.
Over the course of the first twelve months of a child's life, his parents exist in a state of hyper vigilance, watching and waiting for those goos and gahs and nonsense syllables to finally merge into a single intelligible word, "mama" or "dada," or "incendiary." And we all want our child to be the smartest, the fastest, the best at skinning a live weasel with nothing but a rusty soupspoon. So we struggle to find meaning in the endless drooling frothing garbles, the burps and the hiccups, and yes, even the expulsion of gas through the child's tiny anus. When our little boy was just two months old, I was convinced he was farting the word "frappuccino." Only when my wife reminded me he'd never actually been to a Starbucks did I accept that this was probably just a combination of coincidence, imagination and wishful thinking.
But last Tuesday morning, it really happened. A lesser child, or a congressman, might merely utter a single syllable or a brief comment on the weather. But not our little guy. At 7:12 AM, the following dialogue took place:
Me: "Good morning little pookywookysnooky."
Me: "Honey, I think he needs to be changed."
Joanna: "That's nice."
Me: "He's talking."
Ethan: "In a rat's ass."
You can certainly imagine how excited we both are. Next week we're going to take him to Starbucks, flip him upside-down, and have him place the order.
Carraro's Ziggurat/Moktatchev's Gardens. When you're driving east on Loop 202 through downtown Phoenix, the freeway makes a sweeping right turn, just a couple of miles past the split from Interstate 10. If you glance out the right-side window in the midst of that wide turn, you'll notice a wedding-cake-shaped ziggurat, surrounded by forests of Saguaro cacti.
This vernacular interpretation of a medieval Italian castle was designed and built in the late 1920s by Alessio Carraro, who created it as a rococo centerpiece hotel to attract home buyers to his new 277-acre development. He figured the crenellated battlements would be real eye-catchers, out here in the middle of the Sonoran desert.
A world-traveling Russian author, M. Moktatchev, decorated the grounds with 300 species of cacti from 5 countries. Moktatchev worked only during the scorching summer heat, when the plants had drier, firmer flesh. If he had tried to transport the cacti during the cooler, people-friendly months, the plants would have been swollen with water, and very susceptible to bruising and bursting.
Unfortunately, Alessio's development plans were shattered by the 1929 stock market crash, and when Edward Tovrea installed stinky sheep pens on the 40 acres just upwind of the building, it broke Alessio's heart, and he put his masterwork on the market. Years later, he discovered the buyer was Edward's wife, Della.
Edward died in 1932, one year after purchasing the ziggurat, and the property eventually fell into near-ruin. Alessio died in 1964 while living by himself in a small trailer in Yarnell. Della died at the age of 80 in 1969, two months after being badly beaten by burglars who broke into the building and made off with thousands in silver, jewelry and cash.
Note: the City is now restoring the building and gardens; you can take a tour to support these efforts. Notice how the Castle/Garden History has been sanitized for the tourists.
The $100,000.00 view. Also see: the Tovrea murder mystery.
Facebook group: Rename Tovrea Castle to "Carraro Castle":
(Or perhaps "Carraro's Ziggurat.")
In 1957, Hearst Castle was deeded to the State of California. But it's not called "California Castle."
In 1954, the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia were deeded to Louis Saucedo. But they are not known as the "Watts Towers of Louis Saucedo."
In 1931, Alessio Carraro lost the wedding-cake-shaped building he had created, in the most predatory, underhanded business deal that Phoenix has ever seen. The new owners ran the property into the ground, and then used their political connections to sell it to the City of Phoenix for an obscene profit. So why is this uniquely-historic ziggurat disgraced by a name that associates it with one of the most infamous robber barons in Arizona history?
Third-person omniscient. Stranger Than Fiction, written by Zach Helm:
When Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) mentions to literature professor Dr. Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) that the author/narrator inside his head has recently used the phrase "Little did he know," Hilbert is sure he can identify the author, and exults, "I've written papers on 'Little did he know!' I've taught classes! Given seminars!"
Set Your Brain on Fire. A singular interview with flash-fiction matchbook creators Andrew L. Wilson and Bob Thurber.
[1397 words, est. reading time - 4:39] Interviewer: Alan C. Baird
This piece first appeared in the February 2003 issue of Word Riot:
Literary Lights are under-100-word micro fictions, printed inside matchbook covers. In the words of Gorelets author Michael Arnzen: "They're sure to 'strike up' conversation the next time someone asks, 'Got a light?'"
The matchbooks were created by Andrew L. Wilson and Bob Thurber, the driving forces behind Linnaean Street, a web literary journal, and Gargoyle Daily, a broadsheet of links to, and brief excerpts from, pieces of writing from all over the web. Pif Magazine's Tom Hartman says: "Whatever you call Gargoyle -- 'zine, links page, Wilson and Thurber's personal literary wunderkammer -- it's a welcome addition to the world of online letters and as good a place as there is to discover quality writing."
Got a light?
ACB: How was the Andrew & Bob collaboration formed?
(Bob yields to Andrew on this question.)
ALW: Bob and I met as street urchins, dirty and vivacious. I thought he had the nicest shoes I ever saw. As teenagers, we began playing guitar together in an abandoned house, where we would lure divorcees and music hall dancers. (Because we can-can-can, Bob once noted.) One day, as a joke, we began exchanging little stories written on cigarette papers. He'd slip one into my hand and I'd slip one into his. We also played with matches. The house was eventually consumed by a mysterious conflagration.
Years later, after sailing our sixteen-foot sloop "The Slovenly Lass" around the world -- an adventure that took the better part of a year, and cost us both our health (Bob was left with a permanent gimp leg, while I developed an insidious wracking cough) -- we were both bored and anxious for another challenge. When I suggested that we could publish short stories inside matchbooks, he whacked the café table with his cane and said: "Let's go."
ACB: What gave you the idea of publishing flash fictions inside matchbook covers?
(Bob passes on this question.)
ALW: The idea came to me suddenly during a long walk in the rain. I have always been puzzled by the white space left inside the covers of most matchbooks. Why not put something inspiring there for people to read?
ACB: How did you choose the authors represented?
(Bob declines to answer this question.)
ALW: All were my friends, although with one I am no longer on speaking terms. I invited them to submit their punchiest "smoke-long" stories and chose the ones that I thought would most startle, amuse, or enlighten those who might take our dare and "Open Cover Before Reading."
ACB: Were there any surprises during the design/production process?
(Bob tries, and fails, to formulate an answer for this question.)
ALW: We had a hard time coming up with the right tag line to print on the wide upper fold (one of the most interesting aspects of safety matchbooks, for me, is their unique shape). I offered, "Mesdames et Messieurs, please be so kind as to open this matchbook and peruse the short short short story printed within. With infinite thanks, Publishers Bob & Andrew." However, Bob's idea eventually won the day: "Caution: Literary Lights Enclosed." I liked the play on words. (That's Bob all over -- the man's a burbling font of double-entendre, backtalk, and Joycean wordplay.)
Bob did all the design. We're proud of the high-gloss black on white effect. They look like souvenirs from a New York supper club or a posh Tunisian cathouse. I own a book of La Coupole matches, and they aren't nearly as -- sorry -- striking.
ACB: How did the other authors (Mary & Joseph) respond to the finished product?
(Bob wonders why anyone would ask a question like this.)
ALW: Bemusedly, then with incredulous dismay growing into anger.
I think they were actually very proud. At least, that's what their lawyers confided. I am not allowed to discuss the fine points of either case at the present time.
ACB: Have you received unusual feedback from customers?
(Bob is stumped by this question.)
ALW: One woman in California, a Conceptual Artist, built special wooden display cases for the Literary Lights and gave them away to friends in that format. I would very much like to see one of her display cases.
Joseph Faria took Literary Lights with him on a visit to the Azores, and reported that people were absolutely crazy for them. He ran out fast. We've had accolades from as far away as Finland. Not a week goes by that I don't get a submission by e-mail for the Literary Lights series.
ACB: Since matchbooks are primarily associated with smoking, do you feel that Literary Lights are sending a subliminal message?
(Bob defers to Andrew on this question.)
ALW: I do. I think we are saying: "Smoke your brains out! What are you worrying about, you damned pansy? Light up!"
No, truly, I think we're giving people a little pleasure, excitement, and mystical meaning in their lives -- all in 100-word bursts. I look at these matchbooks as unique objets d'art.
ACB: Has this project generated much media attention?
(Bob feels this question is far too personal.)
ALW: Michael Arnzen, a celebrated novelist, did a nice review of Literary Lights in his newsletter. Otherwise, nothing. I sent out samples of the matchbooks to most of the literary magazines in America, too. I can only attribute the media's lack of interest to laziness, or perhaps bitter envy.
If it weren't for the raves we've gotten from Europeans, I might begin to ask myself whether or not it was all worth it.
ACB: Are there any plans for future matchbook collections?
(Bob confers with counsel, who advises him to avoid answering this question.)
ALW: We'd like to do a second series. If so, the plan is to publish absolutely the finest short literary stories we can get our hands on. But we cannot do it until we sell out the first series. That will take a few more customers. (smirks) I am hinting!
ACB: What are you working on now?
(Bob is too exhausted to answer this question.)
ALW: As Martin Sheen's character says to the boat captain in Apocalypse Now, "That's classified."
During the session transcribed above, I began to feel queasy and disgusted. My hard-hitting questions eventually forced Bob to clam up altogether. To assuage my guilt, I offered to let Bob interview himself, and the following material arrived via Top Secret E-mail a few days later.
Meeting Myself in the Middle
An exclusive/inclusive interview conducted with and by Bob Thurber.
When you first meet Bob Thurber, you are struck head-on by his nervous energy and his unnerving presence, his fast and furiously overeager wit, his rather inane replies to questions (anything for a laugh), and his wobbly-kneed, wobbly-lined, almost cartoonish mannerisms. Throughout my short interview with Bob, discernible waves of energy emanated from him like the constant wiggles of dust and dirt that surround Charlie Brown's unkempt pal "Pigpen."
My assignment was to come away from our meeting with enough material to compose a 250-word expose about this obscure post-modern minimalist writer of short fiction.
And I will say this: he's a tall, good-looking fellow, a neat package; but long-necked and stoop shouldered, with a pale, less-than-healthy appearance. I imagined his bones to be as brittle as bread sticks, and I was exceedingly careful when he shook my hand.
Throughout our conversation, his brow remained furrowed. He seemed nervous and uncomfortable. I suspect he is perpetually keeping one or more great secrets to or from himself, has been doing so for a good number of years, and that keeping has taken its toll.
I asked him if he considered himself, as some have said of him, a masterful writer of ultra-short fictions.
He laughed. A small hard sound, like a gastrointestinal disturbance.
Then I asked if he considered himself a careful thinker and without hesitation, he answered: If ideas are bees, I've been stung to death thirty or forty thousand times.
In total, I posed a dozen questions to Mister Thurber, to which he consistently gave lean and mean answers or no answers at all. In either instance, his eyes begged for forgiveness.
In conclusion, I decided if Bob Thurber were a frozen lake, one might easily sweep snow aside and detect the shadows of rainbow trout wavering just beneath the glazed surface... as one slowly starved to death, waiting for the thaw.
The Firebird. In ancient Egyptian mythology, the phœnix was a sacred firebird. It had beautiful gold/red plumage, and was said to live for 500 or 1461 years (depending on the source). At the end of its life cycle, the phoenix built a nest of cinnamon twigs, which it then ignited. Both nest and bird were completely consumed by fire, and a new phoenix arose from the ashes. The bird was also said to regenerate when hurt or wounded by a foe, thus being almost immortal and invincible... a symbol of fire and divinity.
Phoenix, in Arizona's Valley of the Sun, is the sixth-largest city in America, behind NYC, LA, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia. Residents and natives are called "Phoenicians."
Scottsdale is a satellite city of Phoenix, originally inhabited by Hohokam civilizations from about 300 BC to 1400 AD. Before Anglo settlement, Scottsdale was a Pima Indian village. In 1888, US Army chaplain Winfield Scott bought a 640-acre parcel of land here, and his brother George became the first resident. Once called "The West's Most Western Town," Scottsdale sharply curtailed the construction of new horse corrals during the 1970s. Nevertheless, it was named America's "Most Livable City" in 1993. A September, 2006 estimate placed the population total at 238,270.
Our new doormat on Gold Dust Avenue... in Scottsdale, Arizona (see below). If this address is any indication, the streets around here are paved with gold. Stay tuned to find out.
Boldog születés napot, Anikó! [It's my lovely wife's birthday...]
A good time was had by all... at the BlogFest.Org event. Check out those action shots!
BlogFest.Org tonight! See the website for details...
That's MISTER Pincushion to you. Went to see an Acupuncturist/Chiropractor yesterday. Ten needles. Weird.