New Fiction, With Bonus Transit Surrealism

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Late last year, I was asked to read at a holiday-themed edition of The Difficult to Name Reading Series. And so I did, and wrote a story around a strange image that had been living in my brain for a while. “Why I Was Not in New Jersey For Christmas in 1997″ is the result. It’s a kind of conjoining of two different experiences, one half-dreamt, and one drawn more or less from life. The original draft went a lot more into the latter, but it seemed out of balance, making the transition into the surreal a little more abrupt. So:

I got to my friend’s apartment, handed off the book, got some more stares, and found my way to the subway. Hello, Broadway-Nassau. Hello, stairways up and down and unclear signage. I spent ten minutes on one platform before I realized it was the wrong one; I found my way down some more stairs, and stepped on board that train when it came. In the initial announcement, it sounded like the conductor was saying it was the E.

You can read the whole thing here. Thanks to Ryan Sartor for the invitation.

In January

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So: it’s January. The weather outside, as I type this, is relatively crappy; I am making do with a series of recent album purchases (James Xerxes Fussell, Amen Dunes, Nathan Bowles, Sleater-Kinney, Attendant, Sick Feeling) and copious amounts of coffee. I have a working oven again; and baked goods will likely be the result. (I’m also weighing the merits of seeing what happens with cookie dough that’s been frozen over a year, but that’s a ramble for another day.)

***

I started doing some writing about music for BOMB: here are interviews with Peter Jefferies and Weyes Blood, both of which I’m really happy with.

At Vol.1 Brooklyn, I talked with Mike Pace about his new album Best Boy, talked with Andy Choi about the debut from St. Lenox, and posted the transcript of my conversation with Luke B. Goebel from our conversation last fall at Greenlight Bookstore.

I got interview Farel Dalrymple, whose work I’ve admired since Pop Gun War, for Electric Literature.

At Biographile: a look at Nikola Tesla in fiction, the latest from Wes Moore, and the continuing appeal of Patricia Highsmith.

At Men’s Journal, I chatted with James Patterson.

Like George or Pete (By Which I Mean: Bests)

jersey_twilight…and then I realized that, in the midst of being fairly productive, I’d neglected to make with the posts on here. Which I’d like to try to ameliorate now. And so: here’s a very quick “late 2014 best-ofs” roundup. Which is probably irrelevant at this point, as we are bounding into the bright and shining future of 2015, but hey, why not?

***

I had some thoughts on the year in essays for Hazlitt.

I wrote about Viv Albertine’s excellent memoir for Rolling Stone‘s look at the year’s best music books.

I wrote about some albums I liked for Dusted.

I wrote about some books I liked for Vol.1 Brooklyn.

I contributed to Electric Literature’s best novels of the year feature, as well as to their round-up of collections.

I wrote a few blurbs for Paste‘s look at the year in comics and webcomics.

An Indoor Week

IMG_20141211_112713It’s been a quiet past couple of days around these parts. Been busy with assignments, the Lit Reactor course I’ve been teaching, and preparation for the reading I’m doing over the weekend. Quiet is okay with me right now, I’d say.

***

At Hazlitt, I interviewed Sarah Thornton about her new book 33 Artists in 3 Acts.

At Paste, I interviewed Kelly Sue DeConnick about Bitch Planet and wrote about the first issue of Cullen Bunn and Jeremy Haun’s Wolf Moon.

I wrote an essay about Songs:Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain at Vol.1 Brooklyn.

At the Star Tribune, I wrote about John Safran’s God’ll Cut You Down.

At Dusted, I wrote a review of Kevin Morby’s album Still Life.

And at Biographile, I wrote about a pair of soccer-related autobiographies.

December, Theatergoing, Roads Up North

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Mid-November found me watching larger-scale music than what I usually venture to see: Nils Frahm, being charming and playing mesmerizing music in a church on the Upper West Side; a host of composers, including Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and Tim Hecker, channeling the aesthetic of Black Mountain College into a program at BAM’s Harvey Theater. By the weekend, I ended up venturing out to the Brooklyn Night Bazaar for a show headlined by Obits, who sounded particularly sharp in a two-drummer configuration. Also on the bill were Survival Knife, who I described to one friend as “the circa-1983, signed to SST version of Unwound.” (Admittedly, they feature two former members of Unwound, so–that’s not a terribly surprising comparison.)

Now it’s December. Sometimes you lose track of time. Sometimes you’re just busy.

***

Ryan Sartor asked me a couple of questions in advance of the reading I’ll be doing next weekend. I answered them.

***

At Dusted, I wrote about Grouper’s new album Ruins. And I helped assemble this list of recent musical favorites from A Winged Victory for the Sullen.

At Biographile, I wrote about new/newly revised biographies of Lou Reed and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and interviewed Forrest Gander about his novel The Trace.

At the StarTribune, I reviewed J. Robert Lennon’s collection See You in Paradise.

And at Paste, I reviewed the first issue of Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s ODY-C.

Holiday-Themed Readings, Oh Yes

A week from Saturday, I’ll be reading at the Difficult to Name Reading Series’s holiday reading. There’s a trailer for it above, and you can see a photo of a much younger (I think) version of me about 2/3 of the way through. I’ll be reading something short and strange and vaguely Christmas-themed, along with excellent folks like Kevin Nguyen and Bijan Stephen.

Welcome, Central November

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Went to Death by Audio on Monday night. I arrived late, just before the place sold out, to catch a fantastic, inspiring set by Priests and a decidedly catchy one from Future Punx. I didn’t get there in time to see Downtown Boys, and given that a number of friends with great taste in music have raved about them, I wish my timing had worked out a little better. (Apparently I also missed this.) Monday was the kind of day when I was working for about twelve straight hours; by the time I left my apartment, I felt the strange sensation that comes from not having interacted with anyone face-to-face for much of the day. The outside world seemed surreal, unmade.

***

At Vol.1 Brooklyn, I talked with Kathy Page about her fine collection Paradise & Elsewhere.

At Biographile, I wrote about “Literchoor Is My Beat,” the new biography of James Laughlin, who founded New Directions.

Reading the Classics (Out Loud, In Public)

reading_moby-dickIt’s been a relatively quiet week, I’d say. Some preparations; lots of hunkering down and reading nonfiction for a host of freelance assignments. Ordered some coffee from Chicago’s Metropolis Coffee, because it is delicious. Increased my total of bags of books to take to Housing Works to something close to ten.

I’ll be reading at this weekend’s Moby-Dick Marathon, which was a fantastic experience in 2012, and should be equally excellent (if not better) this time out. Things kick off tonight; I’ll be reading between 6 and 7 tomorrow, at the South Street Seaport Museum.

And, if you go to the Marathon’s website, I can be seen in a group shot of many NYC-based writers studiously consulting our copies of Melville’s book. (Taken, like the one above, by Joshua Simpson.)

***

In news of things I’ve written: I talked with The Wilds author Julia Elliott for Vol.1 Brooklyn, and profiled Clemens J. Setz, author of the newly-translated novel Indigo, for OZY.

Early November It Is

No Other at Johnny Brenda's

Best laid plans, etc etc. In the end, I didn’t make it out of the city on the 31st, but I did venture down to Philadelphia a couple of days later to see my friend Maria’s band No Other play at Johnny Brenda’s with Ex Hex and Speedy Ortiz. And it was a fine show: basically, smart music, lots of guitars, lots of distortion, lots of taking things in unexpected ways.

Weyes Blood at St. Vitus

A day later, I went to St. Vitus for a release party for the fourth issue of The Pitchfork Review. There, I heard good readings from Zachary Lipez and Amanda Petrusich and Jayson Greene, watched Brooks Headley give an absurdist cooking demonstration, and saw a fine set from Weyes Blood, a band whose new album The Innocents has been dominating my turntable for much of the past week and change. (That and Moonface’s City Wrecker EP–and I’d argue that the two have a similar sensibility, so that’s probably no coincidence.)

***

At Biographile, I talked with Gary Krist about his history of early-20th-century New Orleans, Empire of Sin.

At Electric Literature, I wrote about fiction where reality itself is rewritten.

At the Barnes & Noble Review, I reviewed Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel’s novel By Night the Mountain Burns.

Late October Weather, Late October Writings

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After a weird gasp of almost-summer-ish weather, Brooklyn seems to have veered back into appropriately autumnal weather, which I wholly support. I’m heading out to the Rockaways tomorrow for a solo “I am getting older” trip, which I am hoping will prove to be a good idea. Then? Watching smart readers in conversation at WORD on Saturday; watching marathoners dash past on Sunday morning, and possibly cheering until my hands are sore. (This is what happened in 2011.) I’m guessing coffee will also play a part, as it often does.

***

At OZY, I interviewed novelist Nuruddin Farah.

At Biographile, I wrote about Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence.

At Dusted, I wrote about Terry Malts’s Insides EP.

At Vol.1 Brooklyn, I interviewed No Other about their new 7″ and Edward Carey about his new novel.

New Fiction at Everyday Genius

IMG_20141026_132322In other news, I wrote a story called “Some Things I Botched,” and Dolan Morgan published it at Everyday Genius.

This one was written in the middle of a lot of things. I’m pretty sure I’d given notice at my old job at the time that I started writing it, and it was very much intended as something to counterbalance something that was much more dense. This ended up bringing together a lot of ideas that had been rattling around in my head for a while–one image for well over a decade.

Also noted: the faun I nursed back to health. He lay beside the highway one night when I drove by. Feeding him wasn’t so hard; house-training was harder. Harder still was hiding him from the hunters: that sound of hounds barking outside, the sequential knocks skipping from door to door, the horns in the hallway.

This is somewhat of a piece with two other stories I’ve been working on. One of them is the one that I read at WORD’s night of scary stories–there was a riff on the word “we” in “Some Things I Botched” that I wanted to develop further, and that ended up veering into said story. There’s another story I’m working on involving lower-division soccer and abuse of one’s ability to officiate weddings that’s also in a similar realistic/not-realistic vein. Hopefully one or the other will find a home somewhere before long.

Anyway! Back to “Some Things I Botched”–if you’re curious, you can read the whole thing here.

 

Things I Wrote, Mid-to-Late October Edition

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This week, I’m going to see a lot of live music. I spent Sunday night at a sold-out show at Silent Barn, where I got to see Radiator Hospital play what was perhaps the strongest set I’ve seen of theirs in the last year; also on the bill were Girlpool, who took familiar musical ingredients and reassembled them in a way that felt incredibly fresh. Tuesday evening, I saw Monomyth, who tapped into a fine legacy of woozy-sounding Halifax indiepop bands. Tonight, I’m off to see Protomartyr and S and Obits play a show, and I’m mightily excited about that. It’s looking like I’ll be seeing live music at some point on each of the next four days, and I’m even more excited about that.

***

I wrote an essay on horror and genre expectations for Electric Literature. And I used a Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace reference in the title, which I am eternally grateful to editor Lincoln Michel for keeping in.

At Tin House’s blog, I talked with Akhil Sharma about his novel Family Life, which is terrific.

At Hazlitt, I got to write at length about Kerry Howley’s fascinating Thrown and, more generally, the phenomenon of academic and intellectual writers delving into visceral subcultures.

At Biographile, I wrote about Emmanuel Carrère’s Limonov, which offers both a smart look at expatriate Soviet literature and the factors that caused the book’s subject to make a move towards fascism, and the new anthology Come Here Often?, in which numerous writers discuss their favorite bars.

Reading (and Listening) to the Ominous

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Yesterday, I read at WORD–the second October in a row when I’ve gotten to take part in what I hope is an annual reading of scary and creepy fiction. WORD’s posted a couple of photos, if you’re so inclined.

What impressed me most about it was that everyone involved was a really dynamic reader. Michael Cisco–whose The Narrator is one of the most unpredictable, unsettling works of fiction I’ve read in the last few years–shifted seamlessly from a more academic style to channeling the voice of a man engaged in some unsettling metaphysical activity. Christopher Buehlman read a scene featuring vampires in 1930s New York; he did a fine job of differentiating between the voices of two different storytellers, and he gave each a slight accent and made both convincing–no small accomplishment. And Katherine Howe spoke about the history of accusations of witchcraft in colonial America, and blended an abundant knowledge of the subject with an accessible, conversational approach.

And, as befits the night, all of the work was unsettling in its own way: Buehlman’s narrative blended urban grit with unpredictable moments of horror; Howe’s account of witch trials brought their more unnerving aspects to the forefront; and Cisco’s contribution found the nightmarish aspects of a surreal world. It was a fine night, and it’s left me with a lot of reading to do.

Some Recent Writings

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I’m turning 38 at the end of the month, which is weird. As I commented to a friend yesterday, this puts me formally in my late 30s; I no longer have the “I’m in my mid-thirties” line to fall back on. And this is probably okay. I’m trying to do a better job of defining myself by, well, mostly anything that isn’t my age. Going for a prioritization of things done rather than years lived. Is that always easy. No. The “I’m getting old” line is an easy one to fall back on, especially in a city; especially when you go to a DIY show and worry that the person at the door wonders if you’re an undercover officer or something. (This might be my own paranoia, to be honest.)

This essay by Alexandra Molotkow helped to put a lot of things into perspective for me. The whole thing is eminently quotable; this one, from the end, seems apt as I type this right now.

“Being relevant” is just the effort you make to know what people who aren’t you are caring about.

It’s a good way to think of things, I think.

***

At Wondering Sound, I talked with Brooks Headley about his excellent new cookbook and his time drumming in bands like Universal Order of Armageddon and (Young) Pioneers.

At OZY, I interviewed Vikram Chandra about his terrific book Geek Sublime.

For Biographile, I talked with James Essinger about his biography of Ada Lovelace, and wrote about two new books that create fictional riffs on the lives of some of the 20th Century’s most distinctive artists.

At the Jewish Daily Forward, I wrote about Ronna Wineberg’s novel of Jazz Age Chicago, On Bittersweet Place; and about Brian Morton’s novel focusing on an aging radical writer, Florence Gordon.

Some Writing About Comics

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Things I am mightily excited about: I’m starting to do more writing about comics. An essay I wrote for The Quietus touched on three main points of reference: Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy of novels, Edan Lepucki’s novel California, and Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s comic Trees. More overtly in the realm of comics: I talked about Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’s Pretty Deadly and Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s East of West in an essay for Electric Literature about how both works make vastly different uses of similar themes and images.

I’m trying to do more writing outside of my comfort zone, and this is–I hope–the beginning of one aspect of that.