Views and Trees and Anniversaries

View from partway down the block

Fifteen years ago today, I moved to Greenpoint. I’m going with the 16th because that was the first night I actually slept here: there’d been some movement of things in the preceding days, but this was, for me, where it all started.

When I first moved in, the street on which I live was lined with newly-planted trees; I assume my block had been affected by the longhorn beetle infestation that struck the neighborhood a few years earlier. For years, I kept thinking, “Yeah, the trees will grow back eventually.” At some point not long ago, I realized that they already had. There’s probably a lesson to be learned in there; right now, I’m just grateful for the view as I look down the block. Small things.

Music and Talk of Music on a Thursday Night

AlvariusMy Thursday night began at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, where The Pitchfork Review was celebrating the release of their third issue. Jenn Pelly read an essay about her first forays into emo, which made me think of The Ataris for the first time since, if memory serves, I was sent a CD of theirs to review for my old zine. Mark Richardson read from a piece that appeared in the journal’s second issue, about listening to Sun Kil Moon’s Benjy; along the way, I realized that I’ve apparently been pronouncing Mark Kozelek’s name incorrectly since 1998 or so. And Lindsay Zoladz read about the device of using hashtags in song names, a titling move that seems doomed to backfire (or at least to tie the song in question to a very specific moment in time.) Taken together, the three pieces provided a fine survey of music writing, ranging in approach from the personal to the analytical.

(Being there, did I feel a little nostalgia for the Best Music Writing readings of bygone years? I’m not sure that I was conscious of it at the time, but looking back on it from the vantage point of a day, I think so. I’m certainly in that spot now.)

Once the readers were done, Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee played a short acoustic set. I’ve enjoyed her band’s music since their debut album, and hearing the songs in a pared-down style did nothing to change that. (See also: the pleasure of seeing someone play music in that space, which is always enjoyable.) From there, I headed up to the L train and made my way to Union Pool, to catch a set by Alvarius B.

I was a relative latecomer to Sun City Girls, the band in which Alan Bishop (aka the aforementioned Alvarius B.) played bass; they were a group whose name I’d seen referenced, but for whom I found seeking out their music far more difficult. When I did see their final album, Funeral Mariachi, at Sound Fix a couple of years ago, I picked it up. From there, I found myself delving into the music made by the group’s two surviving members, brothers Alan and Richard Bishop. This can be a mixed bag: pick an album by either of them, and it may well be bliss-inducing or experimental to an almost monastic extent.

That night at Union Pool, Sam Shalabi played an improvised set on the oud; then Byron Coley led a trio through a number of spoken-word pieces that, I’m assuming, had been written over the years. Perhaps I’m wrong, but that would explain the significant presence of Rudy Giuliani in one of them. Some were satirical; others invoked bygone urban geography and iconic musical figures. (One drew a comparison between Charles Mingus and D. Boon.) Alvarius B.’s set involved some consciously provocative stage banter–I’m tempted to volley out a James Ellroy comparison, in the sense that button-pushing played a significant role in the night’s proceedings.

In other words: the set did involve some beautiful moments, musically speaking; one of them was preceded by an introduction arguing that the song’s inspiration came from wishing violence on random people around him. Was it born out of a genuine sentiment, or was it more emblematic of a consciously nihilistic (or “nihilistic”) aesthetic? The employment of a persona–or, at least, the question of whether one is being employed–isn’t something one seems much at punk and indie shows these days. And that’s probably not a bad thing–the “I have a persona! Watch me shock you with what I say!” schtick isn’t something that prospers in abundance, and there’s a very fine line between keeping an audience from being too comfortable (an admirable move, I’d say) and simply offending them. For my money, last night’s set stayed in the former territory. After an hour and change, the give-and-take between the discomfort and the beatific music left me feeling the same set of emotions that first lured me into punk rock, albeit with a very different balance.

 

 

 

 

My Stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour

map-monmouthIt is, apparently, my turn to take part in the “answer a few questions about your process” interview series.  Huge thanks to Hannah Sloane, who tagged me to take part in this.

1. On what am I currently working?

In terms of fiction? A couple of short stories. A novel that touches on hardcore bands in the 90s, making art, a small town in northwestern New Jersey that never quite clicked, and storytelling. My story “Nearsighted in Northern Cities” is–as of right now–part of it; Åsa Morgan, who’s mentioned a number of times in the story, is one of the novel’s three central characters, and her father surfaces throughout as well.

I’m also working on a weirder project, that I’ve been calling my “J.G. Ballard meets stress-eating at a suburban Applebee’s” novel. I’m not quite as far along with that, though.

2. How does your work differ from others’ works in the same genre?

I think everyone comes from a different place, and in theory their writing affects that. I haven’t lived in New Jersey in fifteen years, but bits of my hometown are lodged in what I write. They will probably always be there, in some form or another.

(Or maybe the next thing will be what finally purges them from my system. I have no idea.)

3. Why do you write what you do?

Sometimes it’s to explore a particular sensation or experience. Sometimes I’ll find a scene or an image and will want to build something around it. I think it boils down to understanding–whether it’s of myself or of some aspect of the world around me. 

4. How does your writing process work?

These days, I usually do my first drafts on a tablet and then edit on a desktop. I’ve recently made the jump to full-time freelancing, so I’m not sure how that will affect this–the use of the tablet was, in part, based on me doing a lot of writing after the work day had ended, in coffee shops and bars. Now, that may well become “write in the living room, edit in the office.” We’ll see.


Bios:

Tobias Carroll lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York, where he is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn. His fiction and nonfiction have been published by Tin House, The Collagist, Underwater New York, The Paris Review Daily, Necessary Fiction, Bookforum, The Rumpus, The Collapsar, and Joyland.

Hannah Sloane has been published in CHEAP POPFreerange Nonfiction,Fwriction: ReviewLitroVol. 1 BrooklynWhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. Her story The Wives recently featured in Wigleaf’s 50 Top (Very) Short Fictions 2014. More of her essays and fiction can be found at:www.hannahsloanewrites.com or say hello @hansloane.

Jane Liddle grew up in Newburgh, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her stories have appeared in Two Serious Ladies, Cactus Heart, Whiskey Paper, Specter magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @janeriddle or at liddlejane.tumblr.com.

Lauren Spohrer is a writer and public radio producer living in Durham, N.C. Her fiction has been published in NOON, Unsaid, the Mississippi Review, GIGANTIC, and some other places. She’s the founder and editor of Two Serious Ladies, an irregular online magazine to promote writing and art by women. She also makes a true-crime podcast called Criminal.

Annie DeWitt’s writing has appeared in NOON, Guernica, BOMBlog, Esquire’s Napkin Fiction Project, The Believer Logger, art+culture, Everyday Genius, The Faster Times, elimae, and Dossier Magazine, amongst others, and is forthcoming in Tin House and the American Reader edited by Ben Marcus. Her work was recently anthologized in Short: An International Anthology of 500 Years of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, edited by Alan Ziegler. Ann holds a B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia School of the Arts. She was a Founding Editor of Gigantic: A Magazine of Short Prose and Art in 2008. She currently teaches in the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia University. For more of her work, please follow her column at The Believer: http://logger.believermag.com/tagged/various-paradigms

Rae Bryant: Rae Bryant is the author of the short story collection The Infinite State of Imaginary Morals (Patasola Press 2011). Her stories, essays, and poetry have appeared in print and online at The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, McSweeney’s, Huffington Post, New World Writing, Gargoyle Magazine, and elsewhere. Her intermedia has exhibited in NYC, D.C., Baltimore, and Florence Italy. She has won prizes and fellowships from Johns Hopkins, Aspen Writers Foundation, VCCA, and Whidbey Writers and has been nominated for the PEN/HEMINGWAY, Pen Emerging Writers, the &Now Award, and multiple times for the Pushcart Award.

Rosebud Ben-Oni is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists’ Collective, 2013) and a CantoMundo Fellow. Her work appears in The American Poetry Review, Bayou, Arts & Letters, Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, Dialogist, B O D Y, Lana Turner Journal, Slice Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and elsewhere. In 2010, her story “ A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor’s Prize in Camera Obscura. Please read more about Rosebud at rosebudbenoni.com She does good things at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

Tessa Fontaine graduated from the University of Alabama’s MFA program and joined a traveling circus sideshow. As an instructor for Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project, she taught creative writing and performance in prisons across Alabama. More of her work can be found in Creative Nonfiction, The Normal School, Seneca Review, DIAGRAM, Pank, and more. Stay tuned for more updates from the road

Luke B. Goebel is the author of Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours (FC2 2014). He won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for innovative fiction for the above-mentioned novel. He is a fiction writer and an Assistant Professor. His fictions are forthcoming or have appeared in The American Reader, PANK, The New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Elimae, The Collagist, Greenmountains Review, Gigantic, and elsewhere. He won the Joan Scott Memorial Fiction Award in 2012.

 

An Older Story, Revisited

Brockhaus-Efron_Velosipedy2

Five years ago, the fine people at featherproof asked me to contribute to TripleQuick, a literary app that they were creating featuring flash fiction designed to appear over the course of three screens. The story that resulted, “Cyclist & Avenue,” was my first go at writing flash fiction that I was happy with. Writing something that minute got me thinking differently about the shape and construction of what I was writing. It was a massively educational experience, and I remain grateful to Jonathan Messinger and Zach Dodson for the opportunity.

(I should also mention that I’m very eager to see what Tim Kinsella’s just-started tenure as featherproof’s publisher will bring, as the guy’s commitment to challenging yet beatific art is a long-standing and impressive one.)

I’ve put the story up on Medium, and you can read the whole thing here. I remain fond of it: both the story as a whole, and what I learned from it.

On Making Stories

I’ve got a Google Plus account. Every once in a while, new features debut, and I’m sometimes notified of these by a new icon in the upper left-hand corner of my phone. One of these indicated the presence of a “New Story.” Curious, I clicked through. What that story turned out to be comprised of, however, was…not all that linear. The generated title of “Trip” suggests that Google viewed this as a trip somewhere. (It was not.) Included in the “story”:

  • The cover of a Brian Turner-assembled Australian rock comp, the incentive I’d gotten for donating to WFMU this year;
  • Photos from Matt Dojny’s paperback release party;
  • The packaging for Smuttynose’s Bouncy House ale, which includes a photo of my friend Liberty.

Normally, I’d look at something like this, deem it an invasion of my privacy, and figure out how to turn it off. But given the surrealism of this particular selection, I think I’m going to leave this on–ideas for stories have come from less.

Talking With Norman Lock

Rat front cover2.psd

 

Earlier this summer, The Rumpus published a long interview I did with Norman Lock. Ever since I was introduced to his work via John Madera, I’ve been an enthusiast for Lock’s fiction, which I’d recommend to anyone who’s enjoyed the short stories of Steven Millhauser or Neil Gaiman.

Metaphysics notwithstanding, I also insert myself in my fictions for no loftier purpose than to give me pleasure: to see myself performing onstage. I’ve defended my trespass by appealing to Postmodernist notions concerning the permeable divide between observable reality and fiction, dream, or fantasy. I do believe we are actors in our own dramas, which, moment by moment, we ourselves write; that we are characters in our own fictions or those devised for us by someone or something else. Before The Boy in His Winter, which is the great divide for me, my chief preoccupation was to fabricate parables of identity for a self that appears to me inconstant and incalculable. Because of an instability at my own core, it comforts me to live, fixed, within a story. If reading is our consolation for having been allotted only one life, I find that writing oneself into a fictional world is even more comforting.

You can read the whole conversation here.

Stories, Cities, and Skies

bbtb

 

Last night, I watched the sun set over the Manhattan skyline and heard Genevieve Valentine and Kate Bernheimer read their own takes on fairly tales. The occasion was a Books Beneath the Bridge event sponsored by WORD, and it was the first time I’d been to a literary event there since, well, last summer.

Stating the obvious? It’s a hell of a place to watch someone read. The event kicked off a little after 7. I got there about fifteen minutes early and sat there drinking my iced coffee and reading Sam Pink’s Witch Piss. When I arrived, the sun was in my eyes, but soon after, it has progressed to being behind a building. Cue a sunset; cue a haze over the city and the New Jersey waterfront beyond.

A few years ago, I worked in an office where my desk faced a window that looked out over the Hudson River and out into New Jersey. It did wonders for my mood, feeling a sense of time; knowing where the sun was. Being able to look out into the distance; being able to have a sense of where in the day (or the night) you are. Today was one of the first days in a while where I’ve recaptured that sensation. Here’s to it.

 

Art in Fiction, Fiction about Art

hustvedt-blazing-world

I tried to take an art history class in college. There was an unlisted prerequisite; five minutes into the first class, the professor teaching us asked those of us who hadn’t taken said prerequisite to leave. (See also: how I came to minor in politics.) It was a strange and unpleasant experience, and I feel as though every time I’ve written about art in the ensuing years has been a weird act of rebellion against that. Because hey, if grudges prompt creativity, why not?

For Hazlitt, I wrote about artists in fiction, with a focus on books by Siri Hustvedt, John Berger, Kate Christensen, and Rachel Kushner.

Hustvedt’s one of few writers whose body of work contains both acclaimed fiction and collections of criticism, though she’s not entirely alone. Consider, say, John Berger, whose career as a writer began with art criticism for the New Statesman, but went on to include a number of celebrated novels, including the Booker Prize-winning G. Berger’s first novel, 1956’s A Painter of Our Time, is overtly concerned with art as its subject, focusing as it does on an expatriate Hungarian artist living in London and grappling with questions of recognition, aesthetics, and politics. The fact that it’s narrated by a British critic named John has led many over the years to debate whether its roots were in nonfiction, but in an introduction to a 1988 edition of the book, Berger argues otherwise, saying, “no work of fiction is ever a transcription. Novels are never houses with portraits of real people in them.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Dancing on Stages, Five Years Later

pace

So: tonight, my friends Mike Pace and Matt LeMay are playing a show at Hi-Fi. Which I am planning to be at, with the proverbial bells on. This will be my first time seeing Mike play music since Oxford Collapse, in which he played guitar and sang, was around. It’s been five years since the band played their last show; I ended up writing this small guide to assorted EPs of theirs at around that time.

Said band was one that I saw a whole lot in the years when they were around; on a couple of occasions, I even felt compelled to hop up on stage and (hopefully) not look too ridiculous. (Go about 3/4 of the way down this page and you’ll see me, six years ago, doing exactly that.) So I’m especially excited for this one; that both Mike and Matt write smart, catchy pop songs doesn’t hurt, either.

See you in the pit! Or something similar.

Some Readings, Some Gatherings

sign

It’s been a busy week and change.

Starting with the most recent: Vol.1 Brooklyn participated in Popsickle for the second year in a row. This time out it was in DUMBO; I took the B62 down from Greenpoint and walked through Vinegar Hill and came at DUMBO from the side. It was quiet in a way that I didn’t expect a fairly populated neighborhood to be on a Saturday afternoon. I got the same feeling I’ve had walking through parts of Minneapolis and Portland–very particular parts, I should say. I got to hang out with a lot of amazing people; the balance between writers whose work I knew and those whose work I didn’t was pretty even, which was a plus.

A few days earlier, I read as part of a salon that Royal Young was part of putting together; the story I read from was my weird riff on a meal I ate at a Denny’s in New Orleans. It was a pretty fantastic night: as a big admirer of Julia Fierro and Marcy Dermansky’s writing, I was incredibly happy to read with them. I hadn’t known Alice Feiring’s work before then, but the memoir she read from was absolutely gripping.

The night before, I hung out at an event Vol.1 was doing for Matt Dojny’s paperback release.  It was at Winnie’s; I did not, regrettably, sing karaoke–possibly because the skills of John Wray and Jason Porter intimidated me. Maybe it was because I wasn’t drinking whiskey.

Maybe I wanted to try to hold off on doing my bad Tom Waits impressions. I’m not sure.

***

I’m endeavoring to emulate writers I admire and make with the random life updates on here. I’m still somewhat curious about Medium as a place for publishing things–there’s a story of mine that’s mostly unavailable these days that I’ll probably post on there before long–but I’m also enjoying doing things on here. So yeah. It continues.

Watching Soccer and Writing About Books About Soccer

world-cup-fever

Hello, World Cup season. As the Air Miami song goes, I do indeed have World Cup fever, and I’m pretty happy about that.

For the Barnes & Noble Review, I wrote about Andreas Campomar’s Golazo!, a look at soccer’s history in Latin America. In some ways, it’s the historical mirror to Eduardo Galeano’s more poetically-rendered Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

I also ended up jotting down some thoughts on The Matters of Life, Death, and More, a collection of Aleksandar Hemon’s writings on soccer, for Vol.1 Brooklyn. Both books come highly recommended; if you’re the sort of person who finds themselves craving good writing on soccer after watching some of the best soccer you’re likely to see for years to come, you could do much worse than checking out either, or both.

Some Mid-Year Music Talk

guthrieThis year, Dusted debuted a mid-year feature wherein writers write about one another’s favorite albums. That’s how I ended up writing about Anne Guthrie’s Codiaeum Variegatum, a surreal and experimental work that goes a long way towards creating a tactile sonic landscape.

Here’s the first part, and here is the second. Dusted’s writers also contributed lists of their favorite music for the year to date, which you can read here.

Works in Progress

I thought it might not be a terrible idea to write something here about some of the longerform things I’m working on. Admittedly, this could be jinxing myself, but I like to think of it as a way of keeping myself honest, or at least focusing on some sort of schedule.

Reel.
A short novel, set largely in Seattle, about art and memory and travel. An early version of an early chapter appeared on Vol.1 Brooklyn as “Revolution Come and Gone,” which is indeed a nod to a Sub Pop compilation from the early 1990s.

New Dutchess.
That’s not the actual title, but right now, this novel-in-progress doesn’t have a proper title, and “untitled New Dutchess project” doesn’t have the same ring. The very short version is that, about ten years ago, I wrote a novella (part of drawer book no.1) set in and around the punk and hardcore scene in central NJ. This isn’t an attempt to revisit that work, but it is a reminder that I’ve wanted to write about music that’s meant a lot to me in fictional form. Though I’m also looking at generations and how a small, isolated town in a corner of New Jersey changes over time and how different characters’ relationships to music and culture evolve. Part of it appeared at The Collagist under the title “Nearsighted in Northern Cities.”

Untitled suburban project.
I described this to someone as “J.G. Ballard meets stress eating at a suburban chain restaurant,” which is…something of an elevator pitch, at least. I’m still pretty close to the beginning of this, but I’m enjoying writing it quite a lot. In late 2013, I started writing a few stories that were more surreal than what I usually write; during a period where I was blocked in my writing of the New Dutchess project, I realized writing something that stood in sharp contrast to its realism might not be a terrible idea. So: yeah, there are weird things in this, and there’s also going to be late-night eating of unhealthy food. Should be fun.

Writing About David Peace Writing About Soccer

red-or-dead

Recently, I got to write about two things I enjoy for The Classical’s Books issue: the novels of David Peace and the game of soccer. Specifically, I wrote about Peace’s two novels about soccer, The Damned Utd and Red or Dead. (The latter is presently on my list of the year’s best books; there are some things it does with structure and repetition that were, to me as a reader, absolutely amazing.) And now it’s up on Deadspin as well.

As with most of his work, Peace draws heavily from history; for these two books, 2006’s The Damned Utd and 2013’s Red or Dead, his protagonists are real people. (Both are due out in the US in new editions from Melville House later this year.) The former focuses on Brian Clough; the latter, on Bill Shankly–both considered to be among the greatest managers in the history of English soccer. As with much of Peace’s work, politics play a role, here through the fact that both Shankly and Clough were, each in their own way, socialists. Each makes use of a very particular structure, and each—particularly Red or Dead—provides an answer to a question that might occur to anyone whose interest involve both soccer and literary fiction. How do you translate a compelling game of soccer into vivid prose?

If you’d like to read the whole thing, here’s the Deadspin link, and here’s the link to buy the Books issue of The Classical.