A History You Want to KnowInterview by Kasey Carpenter
This is a history you want to know even if you were never a fan of the genre. Even if you weren’t part of the Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam debate (Nirvana, for the record). Even if you didn’t need another reason to loathe Courtney Love. Even if you didn’t know a pre-Microsoft/Starbucks Seattle. Even if you have no clue as to what The La’s “There She Goes”, GnR’s “Mr. Brownstone” and Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” have in common.
But, if like me, this music was in your wheelhouse for a better part of your teens and early twenties, then you’ll no doubt eat through this meticulous (567 pages worth) collection of quotes, woven into an entertaining and revealing oral history in which a series of smaller stories are all sewn into the greater quilt of the work. One of the funniest aspects of this book is the style of contradictory narrative in which one person from a band says X happened and then a manager/roadie/ex-girlfriend/ex-band mate comes immediately afterwards and refutes the previous statement. Given the copious amounts of drug/alcohol usage of the time that is unflinchingly attested to within Everyone Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge, one can understand why some details, some twenty, thirty years later might not mean the same thing to all people.
The most important aspect of this work, as with any work that chronicles the lives of our beloved and tortured musicians, is the overtone of humanity. Not only are the “players” represented in this book, but a great many of the former band-mates who walked away before the word “grunge” became a household name and a way to sell flannel at three times the going rate.
Enter Mark Yarm, a freshly laid-off senior editor at Blender magazine, who at the behest of a friend and literary agent, set out on a two year journey to write the definitive oral history of grunge. read more »
The Astral: An Interview With Kate ChristensenInterview by Kasey Carpenter
THE ASTRAL. The title alone suggests several concepts. Those familiar with Greenpoint, Brooklyn may know the building of which the title pays homage to. The other definition deals with the protagonist of the novel, one Harry Quirk, a wilting poet who suddenly finds himself accused of cheating on his dogmatic wife Luz, an accusation he knows to be false, and tries with every breath, up to a point, to correct in Luz’ thinking. In his life, in his writing, in the inextricably wound thread of it all, he fights the need for transcendence, he flees the astral plane that might just be where he needs to be to renew his poetic sensibilities and give him what he needs to weather the storms of his own little teapot.
Of course, that in and of itself does not a conflict make – Christensen needs the water a little hotter for Harry, so we throw in a lengthy couch surfing session taking place all around town, his Freegan daughter who, aside from her peculiars, is Harry’s greatest confidant and supporter through all of this. Oh and his only son Hector is convinced by a cult that he is The Messiah. Good times for poor Harry.
Her portrayal of the artist Oscar Feldman in THE GREAT MAN, which won her the 2008 PEN/Faulkner award, displays her talents at writing the wily male. Harry Quirk, an artist of a different stripe, and on the other side of the infidelity fence, is in capable hands. read more »
Gothic Hillbilly Noir?Interview by Brien Piech
On the morning of Chuck’s Snuff tour stop in Minneapolis I had awoken short the sight in one eye. Never one to miss a Chuck reading, with a prepaid ticket and voucher for a signed copy in hand, and being an old hand at injuries from my many years as an idiot, I went ahead and kicked-started the old Triumph Bonneville, like an idiot, and rode to the reading James Joyce style. Per internet rumors, I was fully expecting to see Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting, Filth) as the reported “opening act,” so the name Donald Ray Pollock brought about a “Donald Ray who?”
No, my hardcover Trainspotting would not be autographed. But there was this Donald Ray Pollock guy. Fine. I’ll maintain a wait and see attitude.
On the cover of his collection of short stories, Knockemstiff, was a praiseful blurb from Chuck himself. The discovery of Craig Clevenger’s awesome The Contortionist's Handbook came immediately to mind as an instance Chuck’s nod paid off in spades. How had I not heard of this Pollock guy? read more »
Giving Birth To CreepsInterview by Joshua Chaplinsky
The process of bringing The Orange Eats Creeps into this world was not an easy one for first-time author Grace Krilanovich. Conceived as part of a dare, the novel slowly took shape during a protracted gestation period of writing and revision. But that was only the beginning. Once fully formed, there was the matter of coaxing the reluctant manuscript from the publishing womb. It was only after a particularly difficult labor that the experimental bundle of joy finally arrived in September of 2010. Indie-press midwife Two Dollar Radio was there to aid in the delivery and hand out cigars. Continuing with the pregnancy metaphor, that would make mentor Steve Erickson the birthing coach, and the unnamed classmate who presented the dare the all important sperm donor.
You'd think Creeps was destined for problem child status, what with its petulant, stream of consciousness anti-narrative, but it actually turned out to be quite the well-behaved little cherub. Reviews have been predominantly positive, despite the difficulty of the material. Creeps appeared on numerous end of the year lists in 2010, and Grace was selected as one of the National Book Foundation's prestigious 5 Under 35. No one was more surprised than the author herself. It's not everyday a plotless book about promiscuous underage bloodsuckers (or PUBs, kind of like CHUDs) is so well received.
Grace was refreshingly honest about the difficulties she encountered while writing Creeps and the lessons she learned along the way. She was kind enough to replay the video of its birth and provide a running commentary while I squirmed in my seat. When that ordeal was over, the conversation turned to more pleasant subject matter- such as the warping of young girls' minds and her love of male hustlers. We also managed to discuss the new novel she is working on and the age-old challenges associated with the problematic second child. read more »
There's a Naked Woman InsideInterview by Kasey Carpenter
Memoirs. Can you ever trust them? How many of us would be true to form in a published retelling of our lives? How many have done so in the past? Who among us doesn't delude ourselves to some degree with our own little revisionist history?
When I received a copy of THE CHRONOLOGY OF WATER to read/review, I had all of these questions polluting my mind before I ever opened the book. Then the first sentence did me in:
“The day my daughter was stillborn, after I held the future pink and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless tender, covering her face in tears and kisses, after they handed my dead girl to my sister who kissed her, then to my first husband who kissed her, then to my mother who could not bear to hold her, then out of the hospital room door, tiny lifeless swaddled thing, the nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge.”
After that first sentence, I was hooked. Then things got really interesting: all the admissions of her own destructive behavior, her relationship sabotage, her DUI, the conflict between loathing and loving her mother, and living with the legacy her father had thrown upon her.
Granted most memoirs are thick with examples of abuse, look-what-happened-to-me narration, and such – but here in TCOW we get the other half – we get what she had done to others, and how, despite herself and her family, she survived both.
Not only was this a memoir I could relate to on several levels, but it was beautifully written – and why shouldn't it be? Lidia's literary life has been fortunate enough to have crossed paths with the like of Ken Kesey, our own Chuck Palahniuk, and she's now part of the infamous writing group that meets once a week.
Did I mention it was beautifully written? Most memoirs are little more than organized memory dumps, broken down for us into childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc... But the passages within, while essentially (loosely) chronological in order, will force more than a few smiles to seep across your face as you read them.
So like any book that sparks my curiosity about the writer, I wanted more. After some emails were exchanged, Lidia allowed me to retrace the lines of the naked body she had prepared for us all in THE CHRONOLOGY OF WATER. read more »
Fear, Death and The Psychology of Fight ClubInterview by Joshua Chaplinsky
Fear is the mind-killer; it is the little-death that brings total obliteration. Whether you are a soldier on the battlefield or a housewife cornered by a cockroach, it is a formidable foe. It can heighten your senses, providing a performance enhancing jolt of adrenaline, yet it can also cause your body to completely shut down on itself. They say only the strong survive, but the many x-factors associated with the fear response pose a danger to even the most well prepared individual. Despite this, good old fashioned knowledge is still your best defense in a dangerous situation. And nobody is more aware of that fact than science writer/outdoor adventurer Jeff Wise.
Wise is currently a contributing editor at both Travel + Leisure and Popular Mechanics. He has also written for the likes of Details, Esquire, National Geographic Adventure and The New York Times Magazine, to name an illustrious few. Throughout his career he has repeatedly put himself in harms way for the sake of a good story (not to mention his own personal enjoyment), tackling everything from skydiving to dog sledding to piloting a WWII fighter plane. He recently distilled his years of experience and turned a critical eye towards the science behind the adventure. The result is Extreme Fear: The Science Of Your Mind In Danger, an investigation into what H.P. Lovecraft called the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind. read more »
A Chimp DividedInterview by Kasey Carpenter
I have to admit it wasn’t easy. Pitching an interview of an as yet unknown author, in fact an author who wasn’t even technically published two weeks ago when I interviewed him, is a challenge. But the book, oh the book... THE EVOLUTION OF BRUNO LITTLEMORE came to me via such high recommendations (Dave Cullen, author of COLUMBINE under Twelve, and Cary Goldstein, now the EIC of Twelve), well, you read the book. Never mind what Jonathan Ames had to say about the author.
Almost 580 pages? This book flies in the face of the incredible shrinking fiction phenomenon many (even the great Cormac McCarthy prophesied as much) hailed as one of the final blips before the flat-line of books. But I’ve had to choke down books a third this size, whereas this book, in all its bulk, went down easily. I’ll leave the reviews to the professionals (or rather those bent on quantifying the subjective), but I can tell you that when you read this book, you’re left with that Chinese-food hunger: as soon as you are done, you want more. So for me, that was tracking down and talking with the creator of Bruno Littlemore, Benjamin Hale.
This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in the past year. I'm smitten, I'm biased, and while I love minimalism, sometimes a vocabulary buffet is the perfect indulgence. Language isn’t dead just yet. And an original idea that began as a riff on Kafka, or rather a riff on Roth’s riff on Kafka, proves to be an entertaining vehicle with which to give us a truly memorable character. Bruno, the narrator, is unique among his kind, in fact, in the world, as he is the first chimpanzee to make the leap from simple (this is a relative term) sign language to fully articulated speech. But as Bruno learns, this newfound skill/gift comes with crippling side-effects such as alienation, forbidden love, loss, murder, incarceration and so much more. But that’s the book. You'll soon read it and soon read about it. For now, I’d like to introduce you to the author, Benjamin Hale. read more »
Kurt belonged to the worldInterview by Joshua Chaplinsky
Warren Zevon probably didn't have Kurt Vonnegut in mind when he coined the phrase, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." Because even though he's no longer with us, the influential writer continues to work as hard as any living author. At least that's the way it seems. Case in point- this past January saw the publication of While Mortals Sleep, the latest offering of the master satirist's unpublished short fiction, as well as the grand opening of The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in his home town of Indianapolis.The term "memorial" aside, this doesn't feel like the posthumous appreciation of a writer's memory to me. It feels more like the recognition afforded a hard-working writer in his prime. read more »
Live To Write, Write To LiveInterview by Joshua Chaplinsky
Stephen Graham Jones is a man who is constantly writing. He has no choice. He glides through the murky depths of the literary ocean like a shark, because if he stops moving, he'll die. In fact, by the time you finish reading this he will probably have completed another novel, guzzling his favorite vanilla-infused cola, scarfing whatever the hell Sixlets are.
It stands to reason that a man who writes a lot of books has the opportunity to do a lot of interviews. Jones is certainly no stranger around these parts, having previously been interrogated by The Cult in 2007 (HERE). The resulting interview goes into great detail about his Native American background, his fledgling literary career, and his compulsive writing process. read more »
A Conversation with Andrew VachssInterview by Rob W. Hart
Andrew Vachss is not a writer in the traditional sense.
He doesn't do it to win awards, even though he's gotten plenty. He doesn't do it for the thrill of seeing his name in print, even though you could fill a whole bookshelf with his work. He's not plumbing the depths of his soul to wrestle with personal demons.
The demons he's wrestling with are very real.
Vachss (pronounced like fax) is an attorney in private practice, exclusively representing children and youths. Before that, he was a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-service caseworker, a prison director and a labor organizer. In Biafra, he worked to find a land route to bring donated food and medical supplies across the border. He helped to establish a national organization that lobbies of behalf of children, and is a leading expert on child protection and sex crimes. read more »