Alex Mar is the guest. Her new memoir, Witches of America, is available now from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
Alex showed up in the car of a journalist. She was, I think, fresh from the airport, and a journalist had picked her up and interviewed her on the way to my house. Busy author. She got out of the journalist's car and walked back to my garage and sat down and talked to me for an hour about witches and Paganism and magic and religion and the occult. I often worry, when an author is on an extended tour, doing a ton of media, that I'll catch her in a state of fatigue, that she'll be "all talked out" by the time she gets to me. (This can happen.) Fortunately, this wasn't the case with Alex, who was totally game and has a truly incredible story to tell. I hold journalists, and particularly those who work deep in the field, in the very highest regard. It's a noble line of work. Alex has spent much of the past five years doing just that, and Witches in America is the very fine result.
Today's monologue is (spoiler alert) pretty long. The podcast got a mention in the New York Times this past Sunday, and it meant something to me. I talk about that, and about the origins of this show and the people who inspired me to create it, and so on.
This is Matt's second time on the show. Last we spoke, he was living up in northern Michigan, in Marquette. Since then he's moved to Tempe, Arizona. A big change in all sorts of ways. We start off talking about that, and then we get into Detroit, the setting of Scrapper, and try to wrap our heads around what's happened there and why and what might happen in the future. Detroit, like post-Katrina New Orleans, is something that from a distance can be hard to believe. Not until you're on the ground and looking at it with your own eyes does the scale of it even begin to come into focus. So Matt, with his good brain, has done us all a service by writing this book and imagining this world in such richness and depth. Seems hard to believe, as I've known (or "internet known") him for a long time, but this was the first time Matt and I have ever met in person (our previous interview was conducted over the phone). He was passing through Los Angeles on book tour and was kind enough to stop by to do the show.
In today's monologue I talk about going out to dinner and my failure to do the kinds of cultural things that I should probably be doing. And I talk about Starbucks.
Chris Tarry is the guest. His debut story collection, How to Carry Bigfoot Home, is available now from Red Hen Press.
This one was fun. Chris had flown in the day before from New York and then was up late working—he's a professional bass guitarist—and this, he told me, led to a few drinks, and well, you get the picture. It was nothing too dramatic, but he was dragging a little when he showed up, hadn't slept much, and it's how we got started with the conversation. And from there things just sort of rolled. Easy guy to talk to. And it was nice to meet a writer who is also an honest-to-God professional musician who makes his living playing music. They do exist. But just a few. Almost as rare as Bigfoot. And another thing: Chris is Canadian. Nice to have another Canadian on the program.
In the monologue, I talk about the difficulties inherent in talking about music, and my disdain for the words "jam" and "gig." I've probably talked about this before.
Catie Disabato is the guest. Her debut novel, The Ghost Network, is available now from Melville House.
Catie came over here and sat down in the middle of her workday and talked to me. I always appreciate it when someone with a serious day job makes time to do the show. As you'll hear, she's a Midwestern girl. We have that in common. The Midwest. I feel like I have a certain shorthand with people who were raised in the Midwest. And I feel something similar with people who were raised in the South, as my extended family is from the South and I grew up going down South and so there's a certain comfort level there, a Southern comfort level. What else? Catie went to Oberlin at the same time as Lena Dunham. We talk about that a little. And we talk about bisexuality and bullying, and so on. We had a good conversation. Catie was game. She was delightful. I think you guys are gonna really like hearing from her.
In the monologue today I talk about manic happiness and this woman in my neighborhood who is always, without fail, insanely happy, and how this morning when she saw me she did a karate kick.
A little late getting to this one, considering that Harriet was the August pick for the book club, but as most of you know, my new policy is to only do in-person interviews, so I waited for Johnny to get down here on tour, and then he came over and sat down and we talked. Always great to see Mr. Evison. Known him for a long time. We met on Myspace years ago. True story. And we've been buddies ever since. Johnny is one of those writers who can really do the work. He's prolific and yet the quality is so high. Every time I look up, I feel like he's got another novel coming out. (And here I should mention that his last one, Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, has been adapted for the silver screen, starring Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez, and should be out in theaters before too long. Stay tuned.) And what else? I think you're gonna like this one. I know I always say that, but with this one I really mean it. I had a good time talking with Johnny Evison. We haven't seen each other in a while and this was our chance to catch up and there's just an essential goodness to him that always comes through, both in art and in life.
In today's monologue I somehow start talking about Janis Joplin and how a certain Janis Joplin moment encapsulates my inner world when I'm deep in the throes of sleep deprivation. I also talk briefly about the recent blood moon.
Bill Clegg is the guest. His debut novel, Did You Ever Have a Family?, is available now from Scout Press. It has been long-listed for both the Man Booker Award and National Book Award.
Bill and I talked on the hottest day of the year in LA, or one of the hottest days of the year. It was sweltering in the garage and it had rained the night before (odd), which made it humid, which made the heat worse. Plus, we did the interview at four in the afternoon, the hottest time of the day. So it was hot. And Bill, bless him, arrived at my door after a day of media and travel and was, despite the heat and fatigue, completely game and willing to sit there and field my questions for an hour. We had a great conversation in spite of it all.
Not much of a monologue today. I just get to the main event. I do, however, get more expansive than usual at the tail end of the show. Stay tuned.
Carmiel and I talked about Los Angeles and New York and Judaism and her dad. We also talked about Portland; she grew up in Portland (Oregon). Of particular interest to me was the fact that she lived on the road, housesitting and working odd jobs for (if I recall correctly) four years. She wrote much of Claire Bishop during this time. A very admirable resourcefulness. And quiet tenacity. I think writers have to be tenacious. And disciplined. Carmiel is also a meditator. She does TM. We talked about that, too. A regular writing practice and a regular meditation practice: they seem of a piece. You have to be willing to sit down and sit still and be quiet and watch your thoughts. You have to be disciplined. You have to be quietly tenacious.
In the monologue, I talk about being up all night with my eight-week-old son, and how recently, after a 2 a.m. feeding, rather than fall back asleep, he stayed awake and stared at me for two solid hours. My point, if there is one, is that it's weird to have someone, anyone, even your own infant child, stare at you for that long in the middle of the night. Especially when conversation isn't possible.
Jennifer Pashley is the guest. Her debut novel The Scamp is available now from Tin House Books.
Jennifer and I had a mix-up on time. She thought we were scheduled for a different day. She also had a migraine headache. She got into an Uber with a migraine and raced across Los Angeles to be here. Shanna Mahin (my guest in Episode 365) was with her. I had to be somewhere in an hour. We were up against the clock but we got it done. Jennifer is from New York state and is one of the rare people I've met who has lived in the same place for her entire life. Maybe it's not that rare. It seems rare to me. I live in Los Angeles and most people in Los Angeles seem to have come here from somewhere else, or else they left at some point and then came back. I do know a few Los Angelenos who never left. I'm not denigrating that choice, by the way. I envy it. I envy people who have a real sense of place. But I'm sure there are downsides to it, too. The grass is always greener, and so on. Anyway, it was great fun talking with Jennifer, migraine headache and all.
My monologue is about time and sleep-deprivation, the two main themes of my life right now, and maybe always. I feel like I have a lot to do and lack the time and/or brain power to do it. But of course this is temporary, I think it's temporary. Everything is temporary. It had better be temporary. It's temporary.
Joshua Mohr is the guest. His new novel, All This Life, is available now from Soft Skull Press.
This is, I think, the third time I've talked to Josh on the program. The first time we did a full hour and the second time we did a few minutes at the top of a show and now we've done another hour. Always great talking with him. Some writers are good writers and bad talkers and some writers are bad writers and good talkers and other writers are good writers and good talkers. Joshua Mohr is a good writer and a good talker. Actually, I think a lot of writers are good talkers. I think communication is communication, and if a person has a facility for the written word they're often good to talk with as well. But not always. Which is fine. I'm just saying. Anyway. Great talking with Joshua Mohr and great to see his new novel get the kind of glowing reviews that it's been getting. Well-deserved and then some. Mr. Mohr fights the good fight.
In the monologue, I read some more mail. One letter comes from an angry listener stepping up to defend me, and another comes from a listener who just saw the new movie The End of the Tour about the late-great David Foster Wallace.
Karolina Waclawiak is the guest. Her new novel is called The Invaders, available now from Regan Arts.
This is my second time talking with Karolina. The first time, it was over the phone. She was living in Brooklyn. Things were different for her then. Then she moved to Los Angeles and is now a neighbor of mine, more or less. She took a long lunch break from her day job and drove over and sat down across from me, and we had a great conversation. When I do repeat interviews I'm always worried that it's going to be a retread, but I don't think that's the case here. Karolina and I covered a lot of new ground. We even talked about crystals. I was really tired but didn't feel it during the conversation. The conversation brought me to life. Hopefully it does the same for you. (Note: You can hear my first interview with Karolina Waclawiak via Otherppl Premium.)
In the monologue today, I read some more mail. A listener wrote in accusing me of glorifying recreational drug use and denigrating antidepressant use and also accused me of behaving selfishly by trying to "crowdsource" positive thoughts for myself via the podcast. I respond.
J. Ryan Stradal is the guest. His bestselling debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, is available now from Viking.
Really happy for J. Ryan. He lives here in Los Angeles and I've known him for a while and he's one of those guys who really deserves the success he's having. Not only has he worked hard and written well, he's been showing up at literary events all over town for years, he hosts his own reading series, he volunteers at 826LA, and is generally just an all-around mensch in the LA writing community and beyond. I know I'm not alone in being thrilled for him.
In the monologue today, I bitterly assess the state of my novel while in a state of epic sleep-deprivation. Hopefully some humor shines through.
Meg Howrey is the guest. Her two novels, Blind Sight and The Cranes Dance, are both available from Vintage Contemporaries.
This is the first interview I conducted after the birth of my son, which is to say "in the throes of acute sleep deprivation." I was pretty caffeinated, and Meg was great to talk with, which helped a lot. I hope I did an okay job. Meg seems like one of those people whom you might call an old soul. It's hard for me to imagine her as a child. An accomplished dancer, she went off to study ballet in New York City at age 15. And now she's the author of two critically acclaimed novels. A gifted person who has lived an interesting life, or lives, in a short amount of time. Also: she wants to go to Mars.
In the monologue, I catch up on more mail. Thanks again for all the letters. If you want to email me, you can do so at letters [at] otherppl [dot] com.
Matt Sumell is the guest. His novel-in-stories, Making Nice, is available now from Henry Holt.
Note: Our conversation was recorded earlier in July, days before my son was born, so you'll hear us talking about the impending birth a little bit. I logged a bunch of interviews in the weeks leading up to delivery, anticipating a busy late summer, so if you hear things that seem chronologically lagging, baby-wise, that's why.
And so. Matt Sumell. There are people in the world who are naturally funny, I feel, and by that I mean this: they're the ones who don't even have to tell a joke, and they're still funny. They barely have to say a word. It's like their essence is funny. They walk into the room, and things get funnier automatically. It's just who they are, it's the charge they give off. Matt Sumell is like this. He's a character. You'll get it almost right away when you listen to him talk. And he's a hell of a writer.
In the monologue, I read and respond to some mail from listeners. I've been getting a lot of great email lately. So much. Many of you have taken the time to send good wishes re: the arrival of my son, and I want you to know how much I appreciate that. Thank you. (I'm not gonna overdo it reading such emails, as I feel like that would be overkill.) That said, the mail runs the gamut, subject-matter-wise, and I'll be reading more of it in episodes to come; I want to try to get to as much of it as possible on-air.
Bud Smith is the guest. His new novel, F 250, is available now from Piscataway House.
I did a reading with Bud here in Los Angeles earlier this summer. He was kind enough to invite me. Ben Loory, Mira Gonzalez, and xTx also read. The next day Bud came over and we sat down and talked. What strikes me about him is that his path to writing is different from most everyone I know in literature. Different and the same, I guess. The word "refreshing" comes to mind. By day he works as a boilermaker. He writes his novels on his iPhone, typing with his thumbs, during his lunchbreaks and whanot. He doesn't get too neurotic about it. We discuss all of this in the interview, and more. Bud is a good one. He has the right attitude.
In today's monologue, I talk about the birth of my son, River, who arrived on July 21st, a few hours after I recorded my last episode. Hard to put it into words, especially since I'm so sleep-deprived, but I give it a shot. Let's just say it's been a great week for my family, and I want to thank those of you who wrote/tweeted/Facebooked your good wishes. Really appreciate it, you guys. Means a lot to me.
Jim Gavin is the guest. His story collection, Middle Men, is available now from Simon & Schuster.
Jim is another in a long line of Catholic (and recovering Catholic) authors who have appeared on this program, a completely accidental trend that was pointed out to me by listener Nick Ripatrazone, who wrote about it in an essay over at The Millions. Jim and I talk Catholicism—as a child he wanted to be a priest—and we get into other stuff as well, including how he managed to get one of his stories published in The New Yorker.
The monologue today is short and sweet. It looks like my wife is beginning to go into labor. I talk about it. That doesn't mean the baby is hours from being born—though this could be the case. It's up in the air. I might have over-shared. I'm not sure. It's debatable. Let me know.
Tao Lin and Mira Gonzalez are the guests. Their new book, Selected Tweets, is available now from Short Flight / Long Drive. (Please note that Tao has written an addendum/clarification to the content of this episode; it is posted below.1 Also: listeners who would like to weigh in on this or any episode can email me here. I may feature your responses in a future episode.)
Selected Tweets, as its title suggests, is a collection of Tao and Mira's tweets. It's not all of their tweets; it's an edited selection, published in a little black bible-like volume. For those of you who might be doubting the literary value of the book, I would suggest considering it as a work of poetry, though it feels like more than a work of poetry. In the aggregate, I suppose it reads like a kind of memoir-poetry hybrid or something. Maybe it's its own thing. It's kind of a jokebook, too. Both Mira and Tao are funny writers.
In the monologue, I talk about Tao and Mira's arrival at my house and the shopping bag that Tao brought, and a conversation that he and I had about a tree in my backyard. I also talk about Twitter.
1 Statement from Tao Lin: During the interview, I think Brad Listi might have asked me if Ellen and I used to talk about rape in a joking kind of way, and I think I may have said "yes". I remember feeling myself cringe when I said that, knowing it wasn’t what I meant. What I wish I had said, and what is true, is: "No, we did not ever joke about rape. What we joked about had to do solely with the somewhat absurd and, in a black humor sort of way, comical fact that the meanings for 'statutory rape' and 'rape' which both abbreviate to 'rape' are extremely different—one is based on age and state/area and is always consensual, the other is based on violence and is internationally defined and is never consensual. Our jokes had something to do about this fact, which I think on some level we felt could/should be pointed out so that we and other people can be more aware of it and therefore reduce the amount of possible distortion it (and other random unideal usages of language in society today) can have on their realities. We didn’t joke about rape itself which we both, I think, did not view as something at all funny, but we did joke about the term/words 'statutory rape' and the word 'rape' and how it’s kind of unfortunate and misleading that these two similar terms reference two very different crimes. For an idea of how Ellen (now E.R.) and I used to communicate, the language and tone we used, I recommend reading hikikomori, a book of letters we wrote together and and to each other in 2007." I would also like to point out that the only kind of rape that could possibly not be "horrific rape", as Jezebel misreported in their headline before correcting it to "statutory rape", is statutory rape between two people in a long-term romantic relationship, which is the accusation they were writing about. Finally, here is a link to some of E.R. Kennedy’s tweets that were mentioned in the interview.
And, one other thing I would like to mention—as an example of how articles, written solely for hits and rushed to publication, can be misleading and, it seems to me, harmful and counterproductive for everyone involved—is New York Magazine's online article about this, which was probably, in my view, the most considered and earnest article about this from mainstream media, published just four days after Jezebel's article. In it, the writer misreported (by accepting what Jezebel had posted as fact) that I "threatened legal action" against E.R. Kennedy. I emailed the writer (we were acquaintances—she had talked to me before when reporting on this, for example) saying so and to thank her for her calm, (relatively) careful reporting, and she responded that she would see if she could add a clarification or soften the language of "threatened legal action". (It was changed to "considered legal action" which still isn't true—the idea of me suing E.R. seems ridiculous and completely undesirable to me, though suing Jezebel was something I considered.) She also responded that there was a version of her article that mentioned my support for consequential personal writing from women, including my own subjects and exes, and that it was "a shame" that that information didn’t make it to the final draft. She said the conversation had been "flattened and warped" and hoped it wouldn't discourage me in my future support of women. I think it could be useful to everyone involved, and anyone who cares about reducing prejudice and increasing equality, especially between women and men, in the world, to know that this is what happens with articles that you read online that have been rushed to publication and serve purposes other than truth. Editors and writers, even at New York Magazine and even when space is not an issue (the article was posted online), flatten and distort reality, thereby manipulating and deceiving their readers. Why do they do this? I think this is an interesting, crucial, and serious question to consider, and one whose answers could be helpful for everyone to keep in mind when reading articles. Flattening and distorting is less of an issue, I think, in books, which often incorporate years of calm consideration and research—something to keep in mind.
Had such a fun time talking with Lidia. It was one of those conversations that could've easily gone longer. She's just a great person to have a conversation with, especially when you're talking about things like books and art and life and death and writing, and so on. She's been through some stuff. She's written her way through some stuff. She's very generous in sharing what's on her mind and in her heart. I think you guys will really enjoy hearing from her. I always do.
In the monologue I talk about my daughter, a recent hike we took, and a question that she asked me out of the blue. It involves incarceration.
Chet Weise is the guest. He is the editor and co-founder of Third Man Books, based in Nashville, TN.
Third Man is a young indie press, and if you've listened to this podcast for any amount of time, you probably know that I'm a fan of the indies and feel like a lot of our best and most interesting literature is produced on the periphery. Third Man is unique, an offshoot of what started as a record label founded by a major rock star. What are these guys doing out in Nashville? I wanted to know. Chet was kind enough to talk with me.
The monologue involves listener mail and is, to a degree, an extension of the monologue from Episode 366. I read a letter from a listener named Keegan, who has a question involving David Foster Wallace, and then I read a letter from a listener named Clay, who survived a terrible car accident, was severely injured, almost died, and then had what he describes as "a flash of liberating brilliance."
David L. Ulin is the guest. He is the book critic for the Los Angeles Times, a Guggenheim fellow, and the author of Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, due out from the University of California Press in October. You can pre-order it now.
I've been reading David for years in the LA Times and had the pleasure of meeting him this past winter during a residency in Palm Desert. His new book deals with a subject we have in common: the city of Los Angeles, a city notoriously difficult to wrap one's head around. David, though, does it masterfully, shining a light on LA's strange beauty, little idiosyncrasies, and big contradictions.
In the monologue, I talk about my complete lack of imagination and tendency toward very thinly veiled autobiographical work, and I ponder my decision to read a sex scene in front of people at a local bookstore.
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.