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.
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.