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Please explain what just happened.

You just walked in. A Question Robot with an attitude. Hello.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Not my earliest, but when I was five, I pushed a tin can deep into a huge barrel of duck feed, specifically as an act to remember forever.

SeanHartofilis_FC2 cropPlease explain what just happened.

I saw my nieces in the basement. They’re up from Florida and are the best.  

 

What is your earliest memory?

At track practice when I was very little, I overran the finish line and was jumped, for reasons I’ll never understand, by two little boys who I’m guessing were brothers. They pushed me down and pulled my hair and kicked me. Then their mother showed up and did the same to them. I wrote about it in a short story published by The Harlem Times called “The Summer of St. Nick.”  

Photograph of Novelist Katie CrouchBestselling author Katie Crouch (Men and Dogs; Girls in Trucks) has a new book out. Abroad is a quick-moving, high-action read that plays out both our best and worst fantasies of being a young, beautiful foreigner in Italy. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, so wonderfully vivid, you might just confuse them for people you actually know (or have read about in the news!).

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Evil Abe was the nickname I gave to the man on the screen who squeezed the cherry-red tip of his black beard until it sharpened into a downward point. In his stovetop hat and long black jacket, he looked like a cross between Satan and Lincoln. The other three contestants clenched their inked-up biceps and stared into the camera. Only one of them would win the $10,000 prize for cutting the face of a dead baby into a stranger’s skin. The theme of today’s show was “in memoriam,” and the challenge was to ink portraits of lost loved ones. Babies as floating heads or sleeping dolls with eyes closed and flowered headbands. This is reality TV in America. This is reality. This is TV. This is America.

This didn’t use to be me.

levi-neptuneTwenty years ago, in 1994, the internet was very different from today. This was long before blogging, before the idea of social media (Mark Zuckerberg was only ten years old), and two years before Sergey Brin and Larry Page started the project that would end up becoming Google. It was the year that Lycos and Yahoo! (then known as “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”) were founded, that someone registered www.sex.com, and the White House, then occupied by Bill Clinton, moved online at www.whitehouse.gov. It was also the year that Levi Asher founded a website called Literary Kicks at http://www.charm.net/~brooklyn.1 It was one of only 2,738 websites occupying a rather uncluttered and unorganized internet, and it survives today as one of the longest running websites around.

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Please explain what just happened.

We just released our poster and trailer for Hellion into the cyberspace and my mom emailed me to say she couldn’t stop crying. Moms rule.

It seems everyone I encounter in literary circles has had a Cheryl Strayed moment, a moment in which something Strayed has written, as the author of Wild or as The Rumpus’ dispenser of hard truths – “Dear Sugar,” has deeply resonated. For me, it would have to be this “Dear Sugar” response:

“Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same. … So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

It’s a quote I’d passed along to my creative nonfiction students one semester with my demure modification, “write like a mother fudgsicle.” But that’s what poises Strayed’s work for maximum impact. She doesn’t modify or shy away. She tells it like it is.  And Strayed’s circle of influence is rapidly widening as a result.

author-photo-lower-res-copyOf Maud Casey’s most recent book, Alice Sebold said, “The Man Who Walked Away cast a spell from which I never wished to wake.”

Indeed, this book is spellbinding. Between the mental patients, the overly-confident doctors who treat them, the women suffering from hysteria, the dazzling acrobat, and the man who simply walks across Europe, this book is like a an eerie, unsettling dream that you cannot shake from your head.

Maud and I shared a fascinating discussion about The Man Who Walked Away, in which Maud brought up “ovary belts,” the difficulty in simply being human, and a “hunger for peace.”

I grew up on true crime television. While I was never allowed to watch horror films, which my mother was sure would influence my malleable mind, she never seemed to think that a steady diet of real-life murder could affect me negatively. I vividly remember watching America’s Most Wanted as a kid and having her lecture me afterward about all of the terrible things that could happen to me simply because I was a child, kidnapping being the most obvious, though murder was always there in the background, a constant possibility, post-kidnapping. She knew about the Adam Walsh murder, which happened the year I was born. She told me the gruesome details, emphasizing how easy it would be for me to be taken, just like him, if I drifted away from her in a grocery store.

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TNB, The Rumpus, and Hot Dish reading series proudly present…

Nerdy, Wordy, & Dirty

An off-site event to help kick off the LA Times Festival of Books weekend!  Live readings!  Comedy!  Music!  Beverages!  Friendly banter!

WHEN:

Thursday April 10, 2014
Starts at 8 p.m.

WHERE:

Bootleg Theatre
2220 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90057

WHO:

Readings by Gina Frangello, Dana Johnson, Jerry Stahl, and xTx!

Comedy by Ted Travelstead!

Music by DJ Mira Gonzalez!

Hosted by Brad Listi, J. Ryan Stradal, and Zoë Ruiz!

See you there!

_____________

Original poster art by Lyndsey Lesh.

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Watching The Oscars has been a tradition in my family ever since my grandma was nominated for best costumes for the original TRON in 1982. We place our bets months in advance, then, when the night of the award show comes around, we get drunk, eat too much, become overly competitive, and lose a lot of money. It’s a blood sport that usually ends in tears. Last year I live-blogged the event from a studio apartment in East Harlem. This year I am back in Los Angeles at my parents’ house. The following is me live-tweeting our inevitable downward spiral.

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One of the biggest problems with selling people on the idea of a rock novel is the term “rock novel.”  There’s something about the two words that don’t want to go together. In 2014, “rock” suggests teenage boys—or men acting like teenage boys—watching one of their favorite bands on TV and getting excited. “These guys rock,” might be said. The word “rock” as a verb also has become shorthand for anything anyone does well. For example, “Thanks, Bob and Jackie, for inputting those contacts into the spreadsheet. You guys rock.” It seems “rock” can be used across the board for the least rocking things imaginable. As a rock novelist three times over, I can’t say this rocks.

Laura-Fraser-authorI probably don’t have to tell any reader of The Nervous Breakdown that it’s harder than ever to publish a book through traditional corporate channels. And certain categories — like collections of essays — have become virtually extinct, a situation which affects me directly. When I started out telling personal stories as a commentator on NPR in the 1990s, there was a lot of interest in the essay — publishers were looking for the next David Sedaris. These days, though venues have opened up online for individual pieces, and we continue to see themed anthologies  on various aspects of parenting, eating, divorce, travel, etc., it’s very rare to find a collection of essays between covers by anyone other than, well, David Sedaris.

Henderson_Author PhotoArtis Henderson is the author of the debut memoir, Unremarried Widow, published by Simon & Schuster this January. The title comes from the official Army term for women like her, whose husbands died in combat. The term could also be applied to her mother, since Henderson lost her father in a civilian plane crash when she was only five. Part of what makes this book so layered and complex is its double story: how Henderson finally understands her mother’s grief by coping with her own. She chronicles two surprising love stories: between a seemingly mismatched husband and wife and between a fiercely attached mother and daughter.

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It is with great sadness that we report the passing of author Ned Vizzini, who committed suicide in Brooklyn on December 19th.  Our thoughts are with his friends and family.

Below, in its entirety, is his December 2012 interview with Brad Listi on the Other People podcast, which Ned called the most candid he’d ever done.  If you would like to learn more about his life and work, please visit his website.