Maggie Shipstead is the guest. She is the author of the novels Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements, both of which are available from Vintage Contemporaries.
Maggie is one of those people who seems to be doing everything right. Harvard. Iowa Writers Workshop. Stegner Fellow. Her first novel was a critically acclaimed national bestseller. Her second novel, many say, is even better. We talk about all of this. I try to get answers out of her. How did she do it? How was she raised? Is it nature? Is it nurture? How does a person turn out to be so accomplished, and at such a young age?
In the monologue, I talk about an episode from last night at around 2 a.m. I woke up and my wife was doing some Lamaze breathing. She had some sort of abdominal contraction, some sort of cramping, and the pain was so bad it woke her up from a dead sleep. And so then there I am, in the dark, trying to process this, trying to decide whether or not I should call the gynecologist (or 911). Fun stuff. Late stage pregnancy. We're getting down to the wire over here. (All is well, by the way. The cramping went away. No home births...yet...)
Ryan O'Connell is the guest. His new memoir, I'm Special, is available now from Simon & Schuster.
This one was easy. It's always great when a guest is funny and forthcoming, and Ryan is both of these things in spades. His new book deals with, among other things, his experiences with cerebral palsy, homosexuality, addiction, and more—all or most of it delivered with dark humor.
In addition to book stuff, Ryan has written for Awkward and is also working on getting I'm Special adapted for television with executive producer Jim Parsons. He's got a lot going on and has achieved an unusual amount of success for someone so young. Fun to catch him now, as his star is on the rise.
In the monologue I talk about existential stuff related to the impending birth of my second child. I also talk about death, which came up recently in an impromptu question-and-answer session with my 4-year-old daughter. She's starting to wrap her head around some stuff, namely the reality of having a baby brother and what it means to get older and, well, eventually die. I fielded her questions, or tried to.
Hope you enjoy.
Shanna Mahin is the guest. Her debut novel Oh! You Pretty Things is available now from Dutton.
Shanna has lived quite a life. Been through a lot. And has managed to emerge from very tough circumstances with her sense of humor intact. And now she's written a novel. I'm always heartened by this kind of alchemy. It's heroic, I think, when people are able to make art from life, particularly when the life in question has been difficult.
In the monologue I talk about my day. In addition to producing Shanna's episode, I also recorded an interview (forthcoming) with an author who shall remain unnamed (just to keep you in suspense). Shortly before the interview started, my wife, Kari, informed me that she was going to the doctor because she was having contractions—probably Braxton Hicks contractions (which are sorta like "false alarm" contractions that don't signify labor)—but she wanted to be sure. So I conducted the interview with my phone on silent, looking down every five minutes, checking to see if Kari was texting me to tell me she was going into labor, and also there was a wasp in the garage that was buzzing around, threatening both me and my guest.
You'll see what I mean. I explain it all, or try to. It's been a long day. It's hot here, and it's hot as hell in the garage when I record. I'm dehydrated.
Mat Johnson is today's guest. His new novel Loving Day is available now from Spiegel & Grau.
Very happy to have had the chance to talk with Mat, particularly at this moment in his career, with Loving Day just featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review and enthusiasm for his work seeming to reach new heights after the big success of his previous novel, Pym.
As I mentioned in a recent episode, I'm making the shift to in-person interviews only (better sound quality, etc) and was lucky enough to catch Mat as he swung through town. We talked about a variety of things, among them early failures, depression and humility, false summits and false nadirs, work ethic, liberation from expectation, how he deals with book reviews (good and bad and in between), police violence, race, identity, and more.
I also took a few minutes to interview my four-year-old daughter during today's monologue. As many of you know, I've checked in with her periodically over the past several months, as my wife has gotten increasingly pregnant and the arrival of our second child (a boy) has grown imminent. As we're now into mid-June and the official due date is August 2nd, shit is getting real, and preparations are starting to ramp up: crib assembly, closet organizing, and so on.
And I'll be honest, there's also a sense of dread when it comes to sleep. I'm not a great sleeper to begin with, but in the coming months it's gonna be particularly intense. Sorta girding myself for that. And in a way I feel fascinated about what it will mean for the podcast. Which is to say: it's one thing to put yourself on the microphone in your normal, disheveled state; it's another thing entirely to do it in a state of maximal newborn sleep deprivation. But of course I will try.
And thanks, as always, for listening.
Colin Winnette is the guest. His new novel, Haints Stay, is available now from Two Dollar Radio.
Had a great time talking with Colin. He came over and sat down across from me and we got into all kinds of things, among them drugs, which seems to be a recurring topic of conversation on the podcast. I'm confused, I suppose, about drugs, which would explain the interest/recurrence, and in today's monologue I talk about that confusion. What to make of drugs, finally? Good? Bad? Useful? Therapeutic? Spiritual? All of the above? Hallucinogens in particular seem to present real value and possibility. But of course there are the downsides.
It's hard as a parent who wants to be an honest broker to know precisely how to feel and communicate about these things. So maybe the podcast is functioning as a kind of dress rehearsal. Eventually I'll figure out my lines, and then when my kids are, like, fifteen, I'll attempt to deliver them and my kids, in keeping with tradition, will ignore me.
Anyway. A good talk with Colin Winnette. His novel, Haints Stay, is out there now from Two Dollar Radio. Go get it.
Oh—I also read some mail in the monologue. Haven't done that in a bit. Thanks, as always, for the letters. If you wanna send word, the address is letters [at] otherppl [dot] com.
Kate Durbin is the guest. She is a writer, curator, and performance artist whose books include The Ravenous Audience and E! Entertainment.
Kate also happens to be a huge fan of Disneyland. We talk about that. She grew up in Southern California. Loves it. Is unapologetic about loving it. We talk about that, too. What else? We talk about our shared love of Gwen Stefani. We talk about religion, family stuff, love, marriage, divorce. We get into things.
Monologue topics: airplanes. Mostly I talk about my trip to Louisiana and my return flight home and I try to build a morality tale out of something that happened in the lavatory. It's unnecessary.
What does it mean to be a working writer? What do you say when The New Yorker sends you an email? In this interview with Amelia Gray, we'll talk work, life, anxiety, and the strange worlds of Gray's short fiction.
Sean H. Doyle is the guest. His new memoir is called This Must Be The Place, available now from Civil Coping Mechanisms.
The Chicago Tribune says
“Memoir depends on its teller for empathy and insight into its subject’s character. Angry, obliterated, yet, by turns, mournful and self-aware, Doyle lays himself bare. But he manages to do so without eliciting pity or scorn. In others’ hands, similar material — drug abuse, desperate sex, violence, suicidal thoughts — have often resulted in wallowing or descriptions of depravity for depravity’s sake. It is a testament to Doyle’s clear examination and probing of his past that when he drops us into one charged situation after another we neither sink nor are incredulous at the messes he finds himself in. His spare words rescue us from despair, while still communicating the profound pain of just being alive with pinprick precision.”
And Juliet Escoria says
“Reading This Must Be The Place is like getting mugged, and then once the mugger takes your wallet, they push you on the ground. And then once you’re on the ground, they kick you in the stomach, over and over and over again. And then when you think they’ve finally decided to leave you alone, they kick you once more in the teeth. The only difference is that when Sean H. Doyle is mugging you, the experience is cleansing, invigorating, something that tests your heart but also makes it glow, an experience you don’t want to ever stop. Otherwise, they’re basically identical.”
Monologue topics: pregnancy update, David Letterman, Indiana, canoes, my dorm room, the elevated couch, retirement, going out on your own terms
Sarah Tomlinson is the guest. Her new memoir, Good Girl, is available now from Gallery Books.
Jill Soloway says
"Good Girl is a father-daughter story unlike any other I’ve read before. Tomlinson’s prose is vivid and compelling, bringing you right along with her as she travels from her rural hometown to the big city in search of fulfillment, clarity, and—hopefully—a sense of peace in her relationship with the man who made her who she is."
And Edan Lepucki calls it
"A forthright, sensitive, and compelling memoir about one woman's often fraught relationship with her father. I read it in a day and felt mournful when it was over. Tomlinson is a clear-eyed yet compassionate writer, and the emotional rigor that she brings to this book is both rare and beautiful."
Monologue topics: Chicago, houseguests, broken bones, closed door paranoia.
Janaka Stucky is the guest. His new poetry collection, The Truth is We Are Perfect, is available now from Third Man Books. Bill Knott says
"Stucky’s verse has the power of the best East European poets—some of his poems seem to be perfect, magnificent, and instantly anthologizable. He is a forceful, cogent, incisive phrase-maker."
And Phantasmaphile says
"Stucky has catapulted into the firmament of my favorite ecstatic writers alongside Diane di Prima, Bill Callahan, Hafiz, e.e. cummings, and Larkin Grimm."
Monologue topics: LA Weekly
Cate Dicharry is the guest. Her debut novel, The Fine Art of Fucking Up, is now available from Unnamed Press.
Kirkus Reviews calls it
"Krouse...writes with a pulse-pounding and engaging ferocity that grabs at the reader...Contenders is heart-racingly original."
And Steve Almond says
"Contenders is a knockout! I've never read anything like it. The marvelous Erika Krouse has crafted one of the most unforgettable heroines in modern fiction. Nina Black is not the kind of woman you'd want to meet in a dark alley. But she's precisely the kind of character I always hope to encounter in fiction: a badass streetfighter forced by fate to confront her capacity for maternal tenderness, her need for love, and the anguished contents of her heart."
Monologue topics: San Diego, roadtrips, carsickness, wipes, fatherhood, going to see a bluegrass band, catching up, the antisocial nature of live music.
Heidi Pitlor is the guest. She is the editor of the Best American Short Stories anthologies and the author of the new novel The Daylight Marriage, available now from Algonquin Books.
Stephen King calls it
"Hypnotically readable--I absolutely couldn't put it down. The structure is brilliant, and I turned the pages with increasing dread. This book is terrific.”
And Booklist, in a starred review, says
“Pitlor brings forth the emotions that surge beneath the surface with the precision and power of a conductor . . . This powerful analysis of how dreams become nightmares will make readers want to hold their loved ones close.”
Monologue topics: iTunes rating, pregnancy update, Dustin Hoffman.
Sarah Nicole Prickett is the guest. She is the founder of Adult magazine and a contributing editor at The New Inquiry.
Monologue topics: Ex Machina, artificial intelligence, hiking, nature, mountain lions.
Monica McClure is the guest. Her debut poetry collection, Tender Data, is now available from Birds LLC.
"McClure may be the poster-girl for a new generation of poets: irreverent, well-read, sexy, even dirty, snarky, but ultimately fighting an earnest battle against reductiveness and easy answers to the complex problems of the Internet age: 'Every citizen of this world is on trial/ I'm learning to speak legalese/ as I stroll through civil law like/ a gamine through a sample sale.'"
Monologue topics: the Michiko Kakutani April Fool's Day episode, mail, listener reactions
Michiko Kakutani is the guest. She is the chief book critic for the New York Times and a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize.
Monologue topics: kicking, worrying, mail, bless you, all businesses are awful.
Booklist, in a starred review, says
"Handler (aka children's author Lemony Snicket) has never been known for writing precisely happy novels, and his latest certainly doesn't deviate. What could easily have been a slightly silly, fantastical romp becomes, instead, in Handler's capable hands, a macabre, darkly human portrayal of family dynamics and growing up in a world running low on adventure . . . peppered with black humor."
And Jess Walter says
"We Are Pirates will dazzle, disturb, and delight you. It might even do things to you that don't start with the letter D, like remind you what it's like to be young, or convince you that Daniel Handler can do anything."
Monologue topics: the dentist, cough, mail, work, fear, money, children.
Will Chancellor is the guest. His debut novel, A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, is now available from Harper.
The Daily Beast says
“To compare a debut novel to Infinite Jest is likely either too flippant or too generous, but consider the bona fides...Will Chancellor’s wonderful debut novel...more than merely promising, is one of the best of the year.”
And Kirkus, in a starred review, calls it
“Bracingly rich...the author maintains an almost thrillerlike pace while taking well-aimed shots at academic and art-market fads and helping two lost souls through essential transformations.”
Monologue topics: hellishness, annoying/hectic day, ATT customer service, ultrasounds.
Adam Robinson is the guest. He is the founding editor of Publishing Genius Press.
Monologue topics: LA, yoga, celebrity sneezes, God bless you.
Timothy Willis Sanders is the guest. His debut novel, Matt Meets Vik, is available now from Civil Coping Mechanisms.
Blake Butler says
"I have no idea how Timothy Willis Sanders is able to accumulate so many small reflections into such a mesmerizing mass. Matt Meets Vik makes maybe the most stripped-down paragraphs I've ever seen somehow hold a hundred thousand colors, emotions, tones, like if there were a website that made you forget all other websites ever existed, or that you're even still online. Hilarious, moving, insane, real."
And Megan Boyle says
"As I was reading Matt Meets Vik (and long after I'd finished), I couldn't get the voice of 'Matt' out of my head, like it gave my inner monologue extra-charming-sounding subwoofers. Everything I did felt funnier and more important. There are only a few books that get in my head the way Matt Meets Vik has. This is one of my favorite books. I didn't want it to end. I can see myself reading this many times."
Monologue topics: my daughter threw a fit, mail, Neem Karoli Baba
Maureen Corrigan, writing for The Washington Post, says
“[The] grim yet undeniably fascinating last act of Fitzgerald’s life is the subject of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeous new novel. . .West of Sunset is a pretty fine Hollywood novel, too, but it’s an even finer novel about a great writer’s determination to keep trying to do his best work.”
And George Saunders says
“O'Nan is an incredibly versatile and charming writer. This novel, which imagines F. Scott Fitzgerald's troubled time in Hollywood (with cameos by Dorothy Parker, Bogie, and Hemingway), takes up (like much of O'Nan's work) that essential conundrum of grace struggling with paucity. One brilliant American writer meditating on another--what's not to love?”
Monologue topics: paranoia, pregnancy, fear, hovering, mail.
Halle Butler is the guest. Her debut novel, Jillian, is available now from Curbside Splendor.
Lindsay Hunter says
"This book is incredible. The deadpan way it nails what it is to be a human who lies to herself and tells different lies to everyone else makes me want to laugh and scream. It is hilarious and weird, my two favorite qualities in a book."
And Kirkus Reviews says
"[Jillian] offers up its characters for hatred and ridicule with such energy, obsessive detail and hopelessness that the reader can't help but read on, through exasperating flinches of sympathy and recognition. A novel that reads like rubbernecking or a junk-food binge, compelling a horrified fascination and bleak laughter in the face of outrageously painted everyday sadness."
Monologue topics: thanks, worry, sleeplessness, corporate pitchman fantasies, idealism, crazy people, Starbucks, Valentine's Day, my dog, jokes that fail to land.
Porochista Khakpour is the guest. Her novel The Last Illusion is now available from Bloomsbury.
Claire Messud says
“Utterly original and compelling, Porochista Khakpour's The Last Illusion weaves Iranian myth with very contemporary American neurosis to create a bittersweet poetry all its own. This ambitious, exciting literary adventure is at once grotesque, amusing, deeply sad—and wonderful, too.”
And Kirkus, in a starred review, calls it
"An audaciously ambitious novel that teeters along a tightrope but never falls off."
Monologue topics: big news, superstition, not wanting to be dominated by superstition despite demonstrably being dominated by superstition by knocking wood repeatedly.
Kitty is the guest. She is a rapper/musician whose latest EP, Frostbite, is now available.
"Love is pain, and nobody understands that quite like this suburban teen-rap every-girl. Pryde went viral with ["Okay Cupid"]...a homemade mumblecore hit, in the voice of a bored kid from Florida. It's full of wit ("It's my party, couldn't cry if I wanted to") and mall-rat ambience, as she waits for her boyfriend's drunk-dials at 3:30 a.m."
And The New York Times says
"She doesn’t rap because it’s funny or novel, but rather because it’s simply the best and most comfortable tool available to her. The results so far, while almost no one has been watching, have the intimacy and comfort of private recordings. They transfix."
The Washington Post raves
“I’ve read many variations on this theme, some quite good, but never one as powerful as Tim Johnston’s Descent . . . The story unfolds brilliantly, always surprisingly, but the glory of Descent lies not in its plot but in the quality of the writing. The magic of his prose equals the horror of Johnston’s story; each somehow enhances the other . . . Read this astonishing novel. It’s the best of both worlds.”
And Mary Roach says
“Descent is the best novel I've read in a long time. Unlike most books that fall into the category of Page Turner, this one also falls in the category of Writing So Good You Can't Even Believe It. Johnston has a superhuman gift for watching and listening to the world and rendering, on the page, its beauty and savagery with such detail and power that the story feels almost more like memory than something read. I was so absorbed in the final incredible fifty pages that I missed my flight to La Guardia.”
Monologue topics: Ann Bauer, Salon, writing, writers, money, class, privilege, honesty, The Struggle.