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Walter Kirn’s newest book, Blood Will Out: The True Story of Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, is a riveting, chilling, and sometimes funny real-life psychological thriller about Kirn’s fifteen-year friendship with a man whose life story eerily parallels Tom Ripley’s in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Kirn is a witty, sharp observer who will flay himself with the same X-Acto knife precision that he uses to flay his characters. I couldn’t stop reading Blood Will Out—it made me want to dig through my bookshelves, pluck out and reread everything Kirn has ever written.

stossel

Scampering through Cape Cod, searching for an outhouse, looking out for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Secret Service…

So I’m staying at the Kennedy Compound because I’m writing a biography on Sargent Shriver, the guy who started the Peace Corps. Bill Clinton is there, sailing with Ted Kennedy. Arnold is there. I’m out walking around town when suddenly the anxiety hits. Anxiety leads to a certain gastric distress so I’m rushing back to the house, sweating, looking out for celebrities and the secret service, wondering if I can make it back. I get there—and the toilet breaks. Sewage rises around me, ruining my pants. I mop it up with towels just as the dinner bell rings for some sort of fabulous Kennedy soiree. I sneak out and race up the stairs, half-naked, wrapped in a towel and run straight into JFK Jr. “Oh hi, Scott,” he says. He was totally unfazed. We had met the day before.

JesseOkay, Mr. Walker, just say the first things that come to your mind.  KKK. 

Church’s Chicken is a front for the Ku Klux Klan, and it prepares its food in a special way that makes black men sterile. Or that’s what a tenacious urban legend said, anyway. When the folklorist Patricia Turner heard that story in the 1980s — a time when the real Klan had been reduced to a bunch of squabbling splinter groups — she asked her informant why the FDA didn’t stop the chain from doctoring its chicken. Aha, came the reply: How do you know the KKK doesn’t control the FDA too?

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A summary of I Fear the Black Hat’s conclusions about Chevy Chase: an arrogant, assholish monster of medium talent who consciously risks nothing and refuses to take himself seriously. 

I suppose I do sort of describe him in that way in the book, yeah.  Although I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan.  I fucking loved the first three seasons of Community.

haaron1343

So your Baptist preaching Bible College professor father totally flips out over your purchase of the soundtrack to Pretty Woman.

Totally.

MBW revisedErika Rae:  So, James Michael Blaine, AKA 11:59…how does it feel now that you’re about to be outed?  I mean…now that you are publishing your first book, you are going to let us see your face, aren’t you?

James Michael Blaine:  Thank God, yeah, you know?  Sometimes you get saddled with a gimmick and you’re glad to get rid of it.  In 2006 I decided I really wanted to try this writing thing.  I’d been turned down for Vandy’s MFA program (we’re looking for talent more along the lines of Shelley or Yeats, ha ha ha ha ha)  – but I was trying to find a place to get better.  If I have any talent, it’s tenacity, to just hammer away until something breaks loose.  I figured TNB would be a good place to start hammering.  It takes awhile to find your voice so I thought it might be good to stay nameless, faceless.  By the time I was sick of it I had the book coming, so I thought I would wait until now.  You ready?

0-2Peter Trachtenberg, author of  Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons (DaCapo Press) explores love, marriage, death and longing through his relationships with both cats and people. The narrative begins when his cat Biscuit, the golden kitty, goes missing while his wife is abroad and he is teaching in North Carolina. While Trachtenberg deliberates whether to travel the 1400 miles round-trip to search for her (spoiler alert—he does) he begins to unravel the beginning of the end of his marriage.

13220410_originalWhat’s the difference between a work and a shoot?

On the surface level, the difference between a work and a shoot is simple. In the parlance of the professional wrestling industry, a shoot is something that is real. A work describes any time the fix is in. Initially these terms were used to describe the matches, to distinguish between real contests and wrestling shenanigans — but from the very beginning wrestling was crooked as a snake. Shoots all but disappeared from the sport in the ring very early on. But language is flexible. Soon enough it was a term used to describe anything real. Truthful comments, a fight in a bar, any comments prefaced by “Let me be honest…” These were all “shoots.” It’s a term that has to make anyone associated with the wrestling industry smile if they stop and think about it for a minute. Only in wrestling would you need a word to let people know that, just this once, you are telling them the truth and not spinning a tale.

Move the mouse or scroll your iPad screen to the space at the close of Amazon.com “Editorial Reviews” section for Daniel Levin Becker’s excellent Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Harvard UP 2012).

There, you’ll find a repetition of the “Book Description,” from earlier in the page, now inflected with all-too-common Amazon character errors:

The youngest member of the Paris-based experimental collective Oulipo, Levin Becker tells the story of one of literature’s quirkiest movements—and the personal quest that led him to seek out like-minded writers, artists, and scientists who are obsessed with language and games, and who embrace formal constraints to achieve literature’s potential.

“’s” is html code for a right singly quote, and “&mdash,” of course, is the em dash (—). These reverse-engineered impregnations of the Descrption are certainly errors, but also candy-store windows for those who take a sly delight in the structural underpinning of how words on a web page may be “put” there, so to speak, in the first place.

So, I’m sitting here on my swing reading Devangelical

It’s too cold!

 

No, I’m inside.

You have a swing inside your house?

 

Yeah.  I always wanted one. 

Like a playground swing?

You’ve got a new book out, Lincoln’s Battle, the Spielberg movie is hot at the box office — why are we still so fascinated by Lincoln?

I think Lincoln is beloved because he dealt with such massive issues. What other president faced the complete dissolution of the Union? The enslavement of millions? Ordering men into battle on that scale? More men died in the Civil War than all the other American wars combined. And, in one sense, it’s Lincoln’s doing. At least partially. When a president contends with war and other huge issues, he’s usually considered a great president. Truman left office with the lowest ratings ever, but now he’s considered a hero because history is kind to those who had to battle titanic issues. But I think there are two other issues that make him beloved. First of all, he’s got what I call the “Kennedy factor.” Most people tend to impose their own values on Kennedy. So if they are pro-defense or social justice-oriented or if they just like a stylish, imperial presidency, they look to Kennedy. Lincoln’s that way. You want the humorous Lincoln? You got him. You want the liberal, big government Lincoln? You got him. The Constitutional, conservative Lincoln?  Poetic Lincoln? You got him. Second,Lincoln is so incredibly fascinating, so incredibly flawed, so incredibly tragic — that he is endearing to us.

You’ve got a brand-new book out called True Strength, talking about the series of strokes you experienced while shooting the Hercules series.  Give us an update on your condition. 

Doing fine.  Staying busy.  Just finished a movie in Baton Rouge.  Got to go to the LSU game.

 

I went to my first game in Death Valley when I was about three.

Oh man, there’s nothing like that stadium there.  One for the bucket list.

 

You continued to shoot Hercules after the strokes and were even able to keep your illness a secret.  How did you pull that off?

Hey there, Jamie Blaine, Nervous Breakdown.  *  Ellen?

…I can hear you but then when I say something there’s a lag and it’s like you’re — huh.

 

There’s this curse with interviews where something always goes screwy with the equipment.

We will battle through!

 

Cool, so how are you doing these days?

Good.  It’s really been great how Marbles has been received.  I worked hard and felt good about putting it out there.  Having it resonate with so many people has been deeply satisfying.

 

The book is about discovering you have Bipolar Disorder – and the fear that if you treat it you’ll lose your creative spark.   What is the link between creativity and mental illness?

Last I spoke with Ms. Annie we talked about loving Jesus, Keith Richards and Winnie the Pooh.  And she told me that yes, sigh, she’d wash Dick Cheney’s feet in Heaven.  (Cheney has been unavailable for comment thus far.)  Anne was kind enough to speak with me again about her new book, a slim wonder titled Help, Thanks, Wow, that features this line, the finest Christian writing I’ve read in a very long time:

“This is the message of the Book of Job: Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with will be horseshit.”

Right now, today — what’s your Help, Thanks, Wow?

My alarm failed at 5:45 am and at 6:30 the driver was ringing my doorbell and I was in my Ethel Mertz jammies, and – made a cup of coffee, fed the animals, dressed, found Help, Thanks, Wow, got to car, started off.  Then driver didn’t have address of radio station an hour away and my internet is out but went home, back inside, found address, and now safely in car, with coffee, talking to you, and NO traffic.  So all three prayers swirling together– Help!  Thanks!  Wow.

 

What’s the most common mistake authors make before their book launches?

M.J.:  Not investing enough of the advance back into the book or investing in the wrong things.  At least once a week I get a panicked call from an author who spent her whole budget on PR and a website and now has a gorgeous page and no press.  No matter how great a publicist is you are still paying for effort.  And there’s no guarantee you will get press.  Press is about news.  Not about quality.  My rule of thumb is for every dollar you spend on PR spend $3-$5 on marketing because marketing is guaranteed.  If you split the budget and the PR works – great – you got press and marketing.  If the PR doesn’t then at least you got your ads.  As for the website – no one goes to Google and types in show me a website I’ve never seen for a book I’ve never heard of.  Your site is mostly for readers who already love you and want to see what else you’ve written.  In the beginning – simple is fine – if they’ve heard about the book and want to know more – a pic of you, a cover, an excerpt, review, buy buttons are great.  And please please before you hire anyone – get references.