Viet Thanh Nguyen is the guest. His debut novel, The Sympathizer, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016. It is available now from Grove Press.
I want to say that Viet is the first Pulitzer winner ever to appear on the program. I could be wrong. (Am I forgetting someone?) I read The Sympathizer earlier this year when I was a judge for the Tournament of Books at The Morning News. (You can read my judgment here.) This was before the Pulitzer. Fortunately I had the good sense to pick it as the winner and advance it to the next round; otherwise this conversation might never have happened. Kidding aside, Viet was great. He showed up ready to talk and was everything one might expect after reading the novel: sharp, funny, opinionated, and full of stories.
In today's monologue, I talk about moving. Again. I promise this will end soon.��
Stephen Elliott is the guest. He is the founding editor of The Rumpus, the author of seven books, and the director of three films. His latest film, After Adderall, will be premiering at the Rumpus Lo-Fi Los Angeles Film Festival on July 30th.
I can't believe it's taken me this long to meet Stephen Elliott. He just moved out to Los Angeles for the summer and he came over and we sat down and talked. I admire Stephen. He does things. He gets things done. He's able to mobilize people. Build communities. He takes risks. He makes stuff. He's a writer. He's the editor of an online literary magazine. And now he's making films. He just keeps going. Great to have had the chance to meet him in person and talk to him for an hour.
In today's monologue, I discuss my brief (very brief) history with adderall.
Claire Hoffman is the guest. Her new memoir, Greetings from Utopia Park, is available now from Harper Books.
Claire is a friend of mine here in Los Angeles. She grew up in Fairfield, Iowa in an intentional community founded by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Maharishi, for the uninitiated, was a spiritual guru and the progenitor of transcendental meditation, or TM. Claire's memoir deals in family history, her experiences growing up in Fairfield, and her struggle to come to terms with what it means to lead a spiritual life.
In today's monologue, I talk about my friendship with Claire, and about interruptions, and (again) about my impending move.
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney is the guest. Her debut novel, The Nest, is available now from Ecco Books.
Cynthia is living the dream. Or at least one kind of dream. It's a common dream: write novel, sell novel for big advance, watch as novel becomes New York Times bestseller, do media tour for novel, feel somewhat weird and even at times guilty that novel is doing so well. And so on. Really good time talking with Cynthia. Very candid conversation. And one of the best conversations I've ever had about what it really takes to make a book a bestseller.
In today's monologue, I talk about moving, and customer service representatives, and spiritual depletion at the hands of customer service representatives. And also my dog's bleeding anus.
Jung Yun is the guest. Her debut novel, Shelter, is now available from Picador.
Jung's novel has gotten an incredibly warm critical reception. Not surprisingly, it took years to write, the gestation was arduous, the psycho-spiritual agony along the way was often intense. This, I'm finding, is what's called "the creative process." This is what I'm learning as I do this show and have these conversations. This particular conversation I remember fondly for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that Jung is a first-generation Korean American from Fargo, North Dakota whose father is a world-renowned martial arts instructor. We had fun.
In today's monologue, I read some tweets from my @BradListi twitter account. Lucky you.
Nayomi Munaweera is the guest. Her new novel, What Lies Between Us, is available now from St. Martin's Press.
And here it should be mentioned that Nayomi's debut novel, Island of a Thousand Mirrors, was long-listed for the Man Asia Prize. The story of that book—its arduous, unconventional road to publication and eventual glory—should be heartening to anyone out there slaving away in obscurity. Nayomi was a lot of fun. She's originally from Sri Lanka but immigrated to the States as a child by way of Nigeria. Pretty sure she's the first Sri Lankan-American author to appear on this program. Happy to share this episode with you guys.
In today's monologue, I field questions from Twitter followers.
This is Dana's second appearance on the podcast. (Her first appearance, Episode 31, can be heard via Otherppl Premium.) I spoke with her by phone. She was at home in Syracuse, New York. We talked a lot about movies, which feature prominently in her fiction and especially in Innocents. And towards the end of our conversation, we discussed her writing process—how it tends to take her five years to write a novel, how she drafts, how she edits, and so on. It's illuminating. And that's really a good word for Dana Spiotta, as both a person and a writer. She's illuminating.
There isn't much of a monologue today—I just get right to the main event—but for those of you who can't live without my rambling, I talk a bit at the end of the show.
Kirstin Valdez Quade is the guest. Her debut story collection, Night at the Fiestas, is now available in paperback from W.W. Norton & Company.
I first met Kirstin on April 1, 2016, at the Ace Hotel Theater in downtown Los Angeles. We were standing side-by-side in the wings, just as she was being introduced at Literary Death Match. She went to walk out onstage, and as she did I turned to her and said, in a deadpan/jokey way, "Don't fuck this up." She smiled, but only kind of (to be fair, it was dark, and things were happening fast), and then almost immediately I began to question my judgment, wondering if the joke had been ill-advised. The good news is, Kirstin didn't hold it against me. In fact, she barely remembered it.
In today's monologue, I talk about mediocrity and Hollywood and delusions of grandeur.
Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan are the guests. They are the co-authors of a flash fiction collection called Rift, available now from Unknown Press. Rift was the official December 2015 selection of the TNB Book Club.
Kathy and Robert were in town for AWP about a month ago. Normally I interview book club authors in the month that their book is featured. In this case, we waited a bit so that we could record in-person. It was worth the wait. Fun meeting these guys. We got into all sorts of stuff. And I think they're the first flash fiction authors I've ever interviewed. I could be wrong. But to the best of my recollection they're the first.
In today's monologue, I answer some mail from a listener. He wants to know how I feel about the work of authors younger than I am.
Elizabeth Crane is the guest. Her new novel, The History of Great Things, is available now from Harper Perennial.
Great to see Elizabeth again. She came over not too long ago and sat down across from me and we caught up. Her new novel is all about her late mother. It's about other things, too, but mostly it's about her mom. We get into that. We also talk about writing and fiction vs nonfiction and childhood and fears. We talk about preconception of structure vs intuitive making-it-up-as-you-go. We talk.
In today's monologue, I answer questions as smooth jazz plays in the background.
Tony Tulathimutte is the guest. His debut novel, Private Citizens, is available now from William Morrow.
Had a good time talking with Tony. He's a smart guy. I feel like he has a lot of intensity to him. There's a coiled intensity thing happening. He doesn't miss much. He had a hard childhood. We talk about that. His novel has gotten the kinds of reviews that debut authors dream about. It's a promising beginning to a career. We talk about that, too. We talk about a lot of stuff.
In today's monologue, I experiment with a groundbreaking new broadcasting technique and share a short conversation I had with Bud Smith, whose novella, I'm From Electric Peak, is the official April pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.
Jim Krusoe is the guest. His new novel, The Sleep Garden, is available now from Tin House.
Can't believe it's taken me this long to meet Jim Krusoe. I've been hearing about him forever. He's a pillar of the LA lit community and was even my colleague for a time at Santa Monica College, where he has taught for years and where I taught for a spell. (How did we not meet then?) Anyway. He came over and sat down and we talked for an hour and could've talked for another hour. He's been in Los Angeles for a long time, transplanted, just like me, from the Midwest, and has seen the city through a few evolutions. Fun to ask him about his early years here, and how the city has changed and so on.
In today's monologue, I read some mail from listeners.
Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum are the guests. They are co-directors, with Jenny Lumet, of a non-profit organization called Out of the Binders. It is devoted to advancing the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers.
Had a great time with Leigh and Lux. It's very impressive what they've built. We sat down in the wake of BinderCon LA and talked about gender politics and community-building and how much work it takes to run a grassroots organization. It's one thing to know about social injustices; it's another thing to do something about them. These guys are doers. And they're helping an awful lot of people.
In today's monologue, I talk about AWP and the LA Times Festival of Books. And I plug my upcoming appearances at Literary Death Match and the Lit/Comedy Roundtable.
Juan F. Thompson is the guest. His new memoir, Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson, is now available from Knopf.
I tore through Juan's book. Read it in like 24 hours. I'm a huge fan of Hunter. He's in my top 5 all-time. I think he's among the funniest writers America has ever produced. I've read most everything he wrote, and I've read about him at length, but up until a few days ago, I knew little about his son, whom I've always wondered about. What was it like to be him?
It can be easy to think that the child of Hunter Thompson would automatically be some kind of savage hell-raiser, but in fact Juan comes off as the opposite. In reading about him lately, the word "monkish" keeps coming up. I wouldn't go that far, but I will say we didn't snort any cocaine during the interview. Nor did we detonate any homemade explosives, which kind of bums me out.
In the monologue, I talk about Hunter. And I read an excerpt of a review of one of his books.
Michelle Adelman is the guest. Her debut novel, Piece of Mind, is available now from W.W. Norton & Company.
Michelle and I have the same birthday (August 1), which we discovered before we started recording. That put us on a good footing right away. I feel predisposed to liking someone who shares my birthday, which probably makes little sense, and yet I suspect it's a common impulse. I should also admit that I may have mispronounced Michelle's last name in this episode. I pronounced it Add-uhl-man. But then at the tail end of the show, in my closing remarks, I pronounced it Aid-uhl-man and spiraled into a rambling crisis of confidence. You have to understand how much I fear this kind of mistake. Fucking something up that is so elemental, mispronouncing a guest's name...it feels egregious to me. Inexcusable. And yet here I am, racing against the clock to get this episode posted, unable to spend the time to verify and, if need be, fix it. I'm out of time. So all I can do is stand before you and admit my failing, assuming that I've failed, which I'm not sure if I have, but if I did: I feel awful about it.
Michelle, please forgive me. Assuming that I need to be forgiven. And if don't need to be forgiven, then please don't forgive me. We share a birthday, for godsake. Doesn't that mean anything?
In today's monologue, I read some mail from listeners. And then respond to it.
Melissa Broder is the guest. Her debut essay collection, So Sad Today, is available now from Grand Central Publishing. She has also written a new poetry collection called Last Sext, due out from Tin House in June.
So much to say about my friend Melissa. I've known her for years. We met back when she was still in New York. Then she and her husband moved to LA, and not long after that she "came out" to me as her Twitter alter-ego, @sosadtoday. You'll hear all about this in the podcast. And you'll hear about how, for the past two years, Melissa and I have been working together as writing partners for film and TV stuff. It's been an experience. It's been fun. It has involved many meetings. Endless meetings. Many studio lots. Many bottles of water. Many coffee shop writing sessions. Many pieces of Nicorette. (Melissa loves Nicorette and has tried to get me addicted. We chew it together after meetings.) And...what else can I say? She's a dear friend and collaborator, and I'm thrilled to see her having such great success.
In today's monologue, a special guest! I talk with Heidi Pitlor, whose novel The Daylight Marriage is now out in trade paperback from Algonquin. The Daylight Marriage is the official March selection of The TNB Book Club.
Adrian Todd Zuniga is the guest. He's the creator and host of Literary Death Match, an international reading series, comedy show, and all-around entertainment.
Note: I will be appearing with Melissa Broder at the April 1st edition at Ace Hotel Theater in Los Angeles during AWP. For tickets, click here.
Nice to finally have Adrian on the show. When I first met him, he was Todd. I've always called him Todd, which he still allows on the basis of a grandfather clause. I've known him for a number of years but didn't know a ton about his life until he came over the other day and sat down across from me. We discussed "Adrian." We discussed "Todd." We discussed "Adrian Todd." He had a hell of a childhood, which I'm not sure he fully realizes. Or maybe it seems less dramatic to him because it's his childhood and he lived it. For me, in hearing about it, I thought: Jesus, that's a lot. It's also interesting. And it makes Literary Death Match make more sense somehow. It makes it seem more unlikely, which then makes it seem more impressive. I have a soft spot for people who conduct cultural experiments and have weird ideas and try to actualize them—and then do. Having pursued a few weird ideas in my day, I have a feel for how much work it is to put on a Death Match. (Hint: it's a fuck-ton.) Todd—sorry, Adrian Todd—has been doing this thing for a decade, largely on his own. Yes, he's had help. But he's the prime mover. It's takes a Herculean amount of effort, and he deserves some credit for that. A tip of the cap as LDM turns 10.
In today's monologue, I talk about LDM Los Angeles on April 1st, and how I'm going to interview someone in public (Melissa Broder) for the second time in my life.
Mark de Silva is the guest. His debut novel, Square Wave, is available now from Two Dollar Radio.
If I recall correctly, Mark's parents dropped him off at my house, which, if true, would make him the first guest in the history of the program to be dropped off by his parents, which is hopefully the start of a trend. (Maybe I should do a series of interviews called "Writers and Their Parents" wherein writers come over with their parents, and we all sit down and talk.) Mark went to Cambridge and got a Ph.D. in Philosophy. I feel like I should tell you that. He grew up in the Inland Empire here in Southern California, the child of psychotherapists. I think I'm remembering that correctly. This conversation took place two or three weeks ago. My life has been crazy since then. My brain is completely shot. I can't remember much. But I do remember laughing a lot during this interview, and feeling like it went really well. So there's that. I hope you guys enjoy it.
In today's monologue, I think I talk about caffeine. And I talk about my barista, a gentle man with a ponytail.
Hanya Yanagihara is the guest. Her novel A Little Life was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award, and it is now available in trade paperback from Anchor Books.
I feel like A Little Life is having the kind of existence that pretty much all writers hope their books will have. It seems to provoke passionate responses. The people who love it really fucking love it and the people who hate it are incensed by it and there are way more people who love it than hate it. You can't ask for much more than that.
Hanya was only in town for a day and pretty solidly booked but she found an hour to come over and talk with me, and for that I'm grateful. I learned a lot from her. She knows her shit, and she really fought hard for her novel. She fought hard to see her vision of this book realized, and she's protective of it in a way that seems both smart and endearing. Also: it paid off huge. Few works of literary fiction strike a nerve the way this book has struck a nerve. Also: it's 700 pages long and she wrote it in 18 months. Also: she doesn't own a cell phone.
In today's monologue, I give a quick update on the health of my son and share news about some appearances I'll be making during AWP here in Los Angeles in April.
Years ago Alex was out in LA and we had a drink and he told me he was working on this novel. It's amazing to see it all come to fruition, to see him on Late Night with Seth Meyers, to see the book reviewed all over the place, to see everybody chattering about it online. Just happy for him. It was a long road from start to finish, but he got there, and we talk about that. We also talk about his late, beloved father, and what an incredible polymath he was, and what it was like to be a mixed race kid growing up in Portland, Maine. We talk about the Iowa Writers Workshop and AIDS activism and what it was like to be in the green room getting ready to appear before a national television audience. And of course we talk opera and historical fiction and The Queen of the Night.
In today's monologue I talk about 400 episodes and what, if anything, that means. I also give an update on the health of my son.
Jarett Kobek is the guest. His new novel is called I Hate the Internet, available now from We Heard You Like Books.
This one was fun. I didn't know what to expect. Or I guess I sort of knew what to expect: Jarett and I would talk about the internet and what it feels like to hate it. But I didn't know quite what to expect from Jarett himself. Jonathan Lethem called him "the American Houellebecq," so I guess I was imagining that he would be drunk and smoking cigarettes and difficult to talk to, and so on. I imagined him as preemptively hating me, thinking of me as "the media," annoyed that he had agreed to do the podcast. Then he showed up and it was easy. More than that, it was interesting. This is a guy who really thinks about the world that we live in and the information we consume and the products we buy and how the powers that be make these things come to pass. He thinks about a lot more than that, but those are some of his main preoccupations. He's a good conversationalist, a curious person, a skeptic, and, I think it's safe to say, a man who has a very well-developed problem with authority. The interview runs longer than normal. Hope that's okay. On this one, I just let the tape run.
In today's monologue, I talk about some scary health stuff that we're going through with our son, and how that has been all-consuming lately, and how unhealthy (but unavoidable) it is to start Googling when confronted with medical troubles.
Elizabeth Bruenig is the guest. She is a staff writer for The New Republic. Her work focuses on politics and religion.
Really excited to have Elizabeth on the program. I've been a big fan for a while now and feel like she is already, at the ripe old age of 25, an indispensable voice in our political discourse, and on the topic of religion. She first came to my attention (and you'll hear me mention this in the monologue) when she submitted an essay to The Nervous Breakdown several years ago. She must have been twenty or twenty-one at the time. Something like that. The quality of the writing blew me away. To see her have the success that she's having now is really wonderful, and not at all surprising. In our conversation we discuss her personal history, growing up in Texas, her religious upbringing and her conversion, in college, to Catholicism. We talk about God, Augustine, the nature of belief. And of course we talk about politics. Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and the GOP shit-show. All of it.
In the monologue, I talk, as I said, about the history of my Elizabeth Bruenig fandom and then I get into Election 2016 and start rambling and don't stop rambling for roughly fifteen minutes. You're welcome, America.
This is one of the most devastating reading experiences I've had in recent memory. Ruth Wariner's childhood in LeBaron, a fundamentalist Mormon colony in Mexico, is almost beyond belief. That she was able to survive seems miraculous, and the fact that she has now transmuted the horrors of her youth into a book is, I feel, an act of real heroism. When she showed up at my door, I was a little rattled. I had just finished the book and was still processing it. Ruth and her husband pulled up in front of the house and got out of their rental car and...the word that comes to mind is "sunny." They are sunny people. I feel like Ruth has the right to be ultra-goth and cynical—after what she's been through, it seems like she should be allowed to chain-smoke everywhere she goes, including in hospitals and on airplanes—but that wasn't the sense that I got when I met her—not at all. She sat down in the garage and we talked for an hour about all of it—Mormonism, polygamy, child abuse, the prison of belief, the deep pain of loss, the love of family, time, healing, catharsis, you name it. It was a good hour. I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.
In today's monologue, I recall how I raced to read Ruth's memoir and wound up listening to the audiobook version at double-speed, and what it did to my head. I also pay a little homage to Glenn Frey of The Eagles, yet another Baby Boomer rock icon, gone, it seems, too soon.
Margaret Malone is the guest. Her debut story collection, People Like You, is available now from Atelier 26 Books.
Really enjoyed meeting Margaret. She showed up at my door and I almost felt like I knew her already. There was something familiar about her. We have a friend in common. Maybe that was it. She used to live in LA. Maybe that was it. We're roughly the same age. Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was a combination of all of these things. Anyway, she seemed familiar and it was easy talking with her. We've been through some similar stuff as parents, too. Trying to have kids. How harrowing that can be. And then she and I talked about some difficult health issues that her husband faced, and what that was like. We talked about Portland, too. She lives in Oregon now, and is involved in the literary community, and so on. We talked about other stuff, too. Margaret is a gem.
In today's monologue I talk about the Powerball lottery and the death of David Bowie. And social media grief.
Chiwan Choi is the guest. His latest poetry collection is called Abductions, available now from Writ Large Press.
First episode of 2016. Here we go. Though technically Chiwan and I spoke in late 2015. He came over. It was cold. He was in a t-shirt. I offered him a coat. He said he was fine. I couldn't believe it. I felt like a sissy. He sat for the hour and seemed unaffected. Maybe something's wrong with me. Anyway it was really fun talking with him. We've met on a handful of occasions at literary events around Los Angeles. He grew up in LA, is very active in the literary community here. He was born in Korea. He lived in South America on his way to living in Los Angeles. He's an immigrant. His family immigrated. A sense of dislocation has been with him to a degree for all of his life. Or for most of his life. I think that's true. I hope I said that right. He can obviously say it better than I can. We talk about those parts of his life, among other things. I found his stories about being a child and moving around really touching. Listen to it. You'll see.
In today's monologue I talk about the holidays. And Star Wars. I talk about Christmas trees. And the shame I feel over how few books I read last year compared to some people.