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.
For this, the 2015 Holiday Spectacular episode, I was happy to be joined in-studio by my friends Mira Gonzalez, Tyler Madsen, and Gene Morgan. They arrived at my house to help me execute a simple plan: we would drink alcohol together and call people and record it. And that's what we did.
Happy holidays, everybody. This is the final show of 2015. Thanks for all of your continued support. I appreciate it very much and will talk to you in the new year.
Brandi Wells is the guest. Her latest novel, This Boring Apocalypse, is available now from Civil Coping Mechanisms.
Brandi moved to LA recently to get her PhD. She's going to be a doctor of literature. She's a shy Southern girl originally from Georgia and spent time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which she loved, and which she misses, and we talk about that. She is also very much into body dismemberment—I don't mean to say that she wants to dismember anyone, or be dismembered herself. She's just fascinated with the body and with the alteration and desecration of the body, and with the body generally. We talk about that, too. What else? She used to hula hoop a lot. Not in a hippie way. In a circus way. And she grew up going to a Pentecostal church where people spoke in tongues and writhed on the ground, electrified by the power of The Lord. All of this and more in today's episode.
In the monologue, I talk about the shutting down of LAUSD schools due to an unspecific terrorism threat, and about the fear in the air, and my outrage over all of the recent violence and America's stupid gun laws, and the chaos and horrors of the Middle East, and so on, and so on. All of it. I attempt to get it off my chest.
Alexandra Kleeman is the guest. Her debut novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, is available now from Harper.
Alexandra is from Boulder, so we have that in common. Not that I'm "from" Boulder, but I did live there for eight years, went to college there, and so on. The feeling I came away with after talking to her is that she's an unusually kind person. She's one of those people who emanates goodness. Just sweet as could be. And behind that sweetness is a really fierce intelligence. Her book has been getting all kinds of raves, and Ben Marcus called it "the fiction of the future" or something along those lines, and he tends to be right about those kinds of things, so...a very promising start to a literary career. And I'm happy I got to talk with Alexandra just as things are getting under way.
In today's monologue I talk about the holidays. And jury duty. And then at the tail end of the show I talk about some movies I've seen recently.
Nic Kelman is the guest. His new novel, How to Pass As Human, is now available from Dark Horse Comics. Nic is also an accomplished screenwriter—he sold a script to Stephen Spielberg a few years back and has since made other sales for other projects.
Funny story: Nic and I are neighbors and didn't know it. He walked over, sat down, we talked. Very pleased to have a guest on the show who works in film and television in addition to writing books. It's a no-brainer for a podcast based in LA and something I need to do more often. It's on my list for 2016. Nic is a smart guy with a deep interest in artificial intelligence. He studied brain and cognitive science at MIT, with a minor in film and media studies. How's that for a combination? I did my best to keep up.
In today's monologue, I discuss Thanksgiving and the perils of holiday travel and the fact that I haven't gone anywhere in way too long. I also discuss a text message that my wife sent me in the middle of the monologue which underscored this very point and made me feel like a negligent parent.
Amina Cain is the guest. Her latest story collection, Creature, is available now from Dorothy Books.
I was unusually tired on the day that Amina came over to do the show. I'm almost always tired these days because of the newborn, but on this particular day it was especially so. The comparison I often make is drunk driving. It can feel like you're driving drunk, talking into a microphone on three hours of sleep. That's probably not the best comparison but you know what I mean. Anyway, my point is that, as tired as I was, talking to Amina was easy and it gave me energy and made me feel better. She has that kind of effect. I imagine I'm not the only person who feels this way. Just a very thoughtful, kind, sincere person, and a very good writer. Hers is a point of view that feels valuable to me, and I'm glad she's writing books and making art.
In today's monologue, I read some mail and then talk about money and class anxiety and having low-level panic attacks at parties and try to make sense of what seems to be a growing caste system in America. And so on.
Andrea Kleine is the guest. Her debut novel, Calf, is available now from Counterpoint Press.
This is a novel rooted in history, both personal and cultural. I lived through the cultural part of it. Anyone alive and aware in 1981 can say that. Andrea, however, lived through both parts of it, and now has a book to show for it, a book that grapples with these darknesses head on. She was in town on book tour and stopped by and sat down and gave very thoughtful responses to my questions, sometimes pausing to think things over before speaking. This is not the easiest subject matter to talk about, but she was game, and I appreciate that.
Speaking of subject matter that's not easy to talk about, in today's monologue I talk about Paris and Beirut and the Russian airliner that got bombed, and terrorism, and the sorry state of the world, and so on. I try to stay coherent. I think I was mostly coherent.
Myriam Gurba is the guest. Her new story collection is called Painting Their Portraits in Winter, available now from Manic D Press.
Myriam showed up in a pair of new shoes. She went shopping before the podcast. Bought some shoes. Wore them out of the store. I found that charming. It reminded me of being a kid and getting new shoes and insisting on wearing them out of the store because I felt like they would make me run faster or something. Another thing about Myriam: she's an easy talker. I love it when I get a guest like this. Makes it easy on me. Good sense of humor. Opinions. Plenty to say. Also very direct about not wanting to talk about certain things, which is always fine. She's a California girl, born and raised. Grew up in Santa Maria, not far from Santa Barbara. Land of the saints. Wine country, farmland, ocean air, strawberries. We talk about it all.
In today's monologue, I discuss my recent crisis of confidence regarding monologues and read from a Twitter exchange I had with listeners regarding the continued existence of the monologue at the top of the show.
Eileen Myles is the guest. She has two books out from Ecco, the first of which is a collection of poetry called I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems 1975-2014, and the second of which is a reissue of her novel Chelsea Girls.
Such a pleasure to have Eileen on the show. I've been wanting to talk with her for a long time and finally it all worked out. I should add that the interview almost didn't happen, because my computer died. But I managed to get that rectified just in the nick of time. You'll hear me talk about this in the monologue. And if you follow me on Twitter, then you know that in the aftermath of my computer's death I had what can only be described as an epic customer service experience with Apple.
So anyway. Eileen Myles was here at my house. She sat down across from me, and we talked. She's having a moment, as they say. And it's the kind of moment that feels rare and very well-deserved. I feel lucky to have had the chance to talk with her as all of this is happening, and grateful that she gave me an hour of her time.
In the monologue, as I just mentioned, you'll hear me talk about the death of my computer. And you'll also hear Eileen read a poem. Which is way better than hearing me talk about the death of my computer.