ZYZZYVA Reviews FELLOW MORTALS

zyzzyvaThe literary journal Zyzzyva reviewed FELLOW MORTALS this week. A zyzzyva is a South American weevil.

Fellow Mortals is a thoughtful examination on how tragedy can change different people in different ways. But it also reveals how we often avoid confronting the fear and pain that manifests in our thoughts. When Sam Bailey finds himself lost in the forest, he is “thinking to himself, it’s all right, it’s all right, because he doesn’t want to say it out loud.” In Fellow Mortals, we can commiserate with that feeling.”

Read the Review

FELLOW MORTALS Radio Show

IMG_0537Hi, all. Remember that radio show I recently prerecorded? Well here it comes.

I’m hosting an hour of songs related to FELLOW MORTALS tonight (2/4) at 11pm EST, with a replay this Saturday (2/9) at 8am EST. I’ll talk between songs and sound professionally stilted. The show will be streamed live here:

WEXT 97.7 STREAM

FSG’s Book Keeping has posted a descriptive playlist I wrote to accompany the show. You can read that here:

FELLOW MORTALS Playlist, with Notes

Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Shane Jones

Twenty questions for authors, none about writing. Some questions are not in the form of a question. (Previous Q&As may be found HERE.)

This week we have SHANE JONES, author of Daniel Fights a Hurricane, released this week, and Light Boxes. (See below for purchase links, along with a Daniel Fights a Hurricane book trailer.)

1. Rename yourself.

SJ: Jocular Ford.

2. Satan hoofs up and says two words to you. What are they?

SJ: Not sure.

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

SJ: The only thing I think of when I read this question is that song that goes “summer summer summer time, summer time…” which is Will Smith maybe?  [Youtube]

4. What is the worst injury you’ve ever sustained?

SJ: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve never had stitches or broken any bones. When I was a teenager I remember crashing my mountain bike into a tree. I can still see the moment where the right handlebar hit the tree, and I can still feel the fear when I flew over the handlebars and landed on my back. Wind-knocked out of me, I remember lying on the dirt path trying to breathe in the middle of the woods.

5. Form a supergroup using any four musicians, living or dead, that would be thoroughly awesome to experience, for better or worse.

SJ: Oh, wow. I’d like four identical versions of David Byrne at different ages on the same stage. Like David Byrne age 15, age 35, age 45, and age 60. I’d like to see them looking at each other and interacting with each other. This may or may not be a music video already.

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

SJ: Robo-Cop when I was a little kid. My father and mother spent weeks on it. The legs and arms were these plastic pipes spray painted silver and like molded around my arms and legs. The mask was really expensive. The gun was from my laser tag set.

7. Tell us something you built.

SJ: Tree fort when I was maybe twelve years old. It’s a sentimental and sappy story I’ll probably tell kids when I’m nuts and super old, but the entire neighborhood kind of came together to build this really elaborate tree fort in my backyard. There were different levels and balconies and something called a “Yo board” which was a board that bounced up and down and was painted with the word Yo in dull orange. Eventually it got so out of control that a neighbor, a man who looked like a giant bird and who loved to use a leaf-blower while shirtless, complained and we had to tear it down. Building it was really fun, but breaking it apart was amazing.

Daniel Fights a Hurricane8. If you could safely have one non-domesticated animal as a lifelong companion, what would it be? (Fantasy creatures are allowed.)

SJ: I first thought sloth. But they are a bit creepy. Can you imagine waking up and a sloth is slowly crawling across you? I don’t know. Probably just a huge fucking pig that fills an entire bedroom.

9. What do you like to grow?

SJ: Crack cocaine motherfucker!

10. Name a thing you love that nobody else you personally know also loves.

SJ: That’s a really good question. I’m thinking hard about it. I guess I love my personal mind/dream/space where I go and think up ideas. Who else would love that? It’s egotistical and selfish and doesn’t make any money. But I love it. I love sitting and thinking and going deeper and deeper into my mind, digging around for ideas. I don’t know anyone who loves that.

11. How would you like those eggs?

SJ: I usually say scrambled. But scrambled can get boring. Maybe over-easy. A nice pair of over-easy eggs. That sounds really nice.

12. What’s the worst thing about your favorite holiday?

SJ: I actually really like The Fourth of July. I don’t know why exactly. There’s something so disgustingly patriotic and beautifully ridiculous about that holiday. The drunkenness, our sad country celebrating for the sake of celebrating, the fireworks, the lotioned skin of people, the grilling of cheap meat. It’s somehow the best holiday and worst holiday simultaneously.

13. You’ve just been turned into a lousy superhero. Who are you, and who is your nemesis?

SJ: I don’t know.

14. Name a thought that has profoundly scared you in the night.

SJ: I’m alive.

15. You’re stinking rich. What’s the first thing you add to your home?

SJ: Gold coin filled room Scrooge McDuck style.

Light Boxes

16. What are you up to this weekend?

SJ: My sister is going to her high school prom. So I’m going to visit my parents and see her and take pictures and stuff and just be a supportive brother.

17. Which color makes you feel the most comfortable? The most anxious?

SJ: Blue makes me feel comfortable. Red would be the most anxious. That answer seems pretty boring.

18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

SJ: I worked as a lifeguard at a really shitty motel when I was 19. This was a place just filled with alcoholics, deadbeat fathers, drug addicts, people killing themselves in their $40 a night rooms, etc. It was amazing. I remember one guy, out of his mind, at the pool wearing black shorts. He had long black hair and wore sunglasses. All over his body he had written in black ink about how he was a pilot. Like, he had written types of planes, engine details, ways to fly from one airport to the next, etc. That was strange. I let him swim. He went down the slide and it was like someone had just pushed down a sack of potatoes.

19. I mean honestly: aren’t you better off living without ___?

SJ: The bag of chips I just ate.

20. James Cameron discovers something new at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. What do you hope it is?

SJ: I don’t know. I guess just something really weird and new? A new breed of horse maybe?

Shane Jones lives in upstate New York. His first novel, Light Boxes, was originally published by Publishing Genius Press in a print run of 500 copies in 2009. The novel was reviewed widely, the film option purchased by Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Adaptation), and the book was reprinted by Penguin Group in 2010. Light Boxes has been translated in eight languages and was named an NPR best book of the year. In August of 2012 Penguin released a new novel, Daniel Fights a Hurricane. Shane is also the author of the novella The Failure Six.

Previous Q&As may be found HERE.

Web site: Daniel Fights a Hurricane Facebook Page

Buy his books:

Daniel Fights a Hurricane

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Light Boxes

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Zoe Fishman

Twenty questions for authors, none about writing. Some questions are not in the form of a question. (Previous Q&As may be found HERE.)

This week we have ZOE FISHMAN, author of Saving Ruth and Balancing Acts. (See below for purchase links.)

Zoe Fishman

Photo Credit: Lauren Steel

1. Rename yourself.

ZF: Alexis Arbon

2. Satan hoofs up and says two words to you. What are they?

ZF: Nice jeans

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

ZF: “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama [Youtube]

4. What is the worst injury you’ve ever sustained?

ZF: Broke the pinky and ring finger of my right hand on a margarita-fueled walk home in Brooklyn

5. Form a supergroup using any four musicians, living or dead, that would be thoroughly awesome to experience, for better or worse.

ZF: Stevie Knicks, Lauryn Hill, Robyn and Sia

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

ZF: Raggedy Ann, age 6ish. There was a yarn wig involved.

7. Tell us something you built.

ZF: The Ikea desk upon which I am currently typing. A huge coup for me, as I have the mechanical skills of…well, someone who has no mechanical skills.

Zoe Fishman Saving Ruth8. If you could safely have one non-domesticated animal as a lifelong companion, what would it be? (Fantasy creatures are allowed.)

ZF: An Ewok, obviously.

9. What do you like to grow?

ZF: Hair

10. Name a thing you love that nobody else you personally know also loves.

ZF: Banana peppers

11. How would you like those eggs?

ZF: Poached

12. What’s the worst thing about your favorite holiday?

ZF: A food coma

13. You’ve just been turned into a lousy superhero. Who are you, and who is your nemesis?

ZF: Super Writer and my nemesis is Super Internet

14. Name a thought that has profoundly scared you in the night.

ZF: Oh shit, where is my passport?

Zoe Fishman Balancing Acts15. You’re stinking rich. What’s the first thing you add to your home?

ZF: A palatial bathroom with a state of the art shower just for me

16. What are you up to this weekend?

ZF: Hanging out with my husband and five month old son

17. Which color makes you feel the most comfortable? The most anxious?

ZF: Navy for comfort and white for anxiety. It’s a stain canvas.

18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

ZF: Exercising an overweight child

19. I mean honestly: aren’t you better off living without ___?

ZF: Gossip sites

20. James Cameron discovers something new at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. What do you hope it is?

ZF: My passport

Zoe Fishman: Saving Ruth is Zoe Fishman’s second novel and was published in May 2012. Her first, Balancing Acts, was published by Harper Collins in March 2010. Zoe grew up in Alabama and went onto Boston for college before moving to New York, where she worked in book publishing in foreign rights and as an agent for thirteen years. In August 2011, she moved to Atlanta, where she is currently working on her third novel and enjoying getting to know her infant son.

Web site: Official Author Site

Buy her books:

Saving Ruth

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Balancing Acts

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Amelia Gray

Twenty questions for authors, none about writing. Some questions are not in the form of a question. (Previous Q&As may be found HERE.)

This week we have AMELIA GRAY, author of THREATS, Museum of the Weird, and AM/PM. (See below for purchase links.)

Amelia Gray1. Rename yourself.

AG: “FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY”

2. Satan hoofs up and says two words to you. What are they?

AG: WHERE-WE’RE-GOING WE-DON’T-NEED-ROADS

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

AG: “CRAZY IN LOVE”, BEYONCE FEAT. JAY Z [Youtube]

4. What is the worst injury you’ve ever sustained?

AG: AH YES IT WAS THE MIDDLE SCHOOL DANCE AND I HAD JUST BEGUN MY MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENT REGIMEN.

5. Form a supergroup using any four musicians, living or dead, that would be thoroughly awesome to experience, for better or worse.

Amelia Gray THREATSAG: BILLIE HOLLIDAY, AMY TAN, SHAKIRA, TOM WAITS

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

AG: BUNNY

7. Tell us something you built.

AG: A SHORT STORY EMPIRE

8. If you could safely have one non-domesticated animal as a lifelong companion, what would it be? (Fantasy creatures are allowed.)

AG: BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT

9. What do you like to grow?

AG: MOLD

10. Name a thing you love that nobody else you personally know also loves.

AG: ‘THE AWAKENING’ BY KATE CHOPIN

Amelia Gray Museum of the Weird11. How would you like those eggs?

AG: POACHED BITCH

12. What’s the worst thing about your favorite holiday?

AG: ORAL THRUSH

13. You’ve just been turned into a lousy superhero. Who are you, and who is your nemesis?

AG: I AM ORAL THRUSH AND MY NEMESIS IS ANTIBIOTICS

14. Name a thought that has profoundly scared you in the night.

AG: “WHEN YOU DIE YOU’LL BREATHE OUT JUST LIKE THIS”

15. You’re stinking rich. What’s the first thing you add to your home?

AG: A FUCKING SECOND BEDROOM

16. What are you up to this weekend?

AG: WEST HOLLYWOOD PRIDE WEEKEND + THE BIRTHDAY PARTY OF A THREE YEAR OLD CHILD

17. Which color makes you feel the most comfortable? The most anxious?

AG: SEA GREEN FREAKS MY SHIT OUT; IVORY, ON THE OTHER HAND,

Amelia Gray AM/PM18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

AG: GYNECOLOGICAL MODEL

19. I mean honestly: aren’t you better off living without ___?

AG: MEXICAN WEED

20. James Cameron discovers something new at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. What do you hope it is?

AG: HIS DEATH

Amelia Gray is the author of AM/PM (Featherproof Books) and Museum of the Weird (FC2), for which she won the 2008 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize. Her first novel, THREATS, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her writing has appeared in Tin House, American Short Fiction, McSweeney’s, and DIAGRAM, among others. Find more at ameliagray.com or on Twitter @grayamelia.

Web site: Official Author Site

Buy her books:

THREATS

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Museum of the Weird

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

AM/PM

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

How I Became a Writer 2: How Poetry Got Me a Prom Date

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2

You know when you hit puberty and your body’s growing asymmetrically, like when Bruce Banner is only 15% of the way to full Hulk, and you have big feet and reckless limbs and a gelatinous softness that’s similar to baby fat but creepier since you aren’t a baby anymore, and your athletic peers are able to convert their explosive growth into muscle and skill and awesomeness, and the rest of us look like teenage versions of middle-aged office workers, with bad skin and slumped shoulders and a perpetual look of bodily defeat?

I remember standing in my underwear (tighty whities, FYI) in front of the mirror at home and here’s what I saw: a pale kid with zits, a potbelly due to poor posture, and an expression of fascinated disappointment. No strength, no definition… no wonder I looked so awkward in a stonewashed denim jacket and floral Jams. I ate whatever I wanted–Pizza Hut, WWF ice cream sandwiches, microwaveable anything–and although I had tried a number of sports over the years (baseball, basketball, soccer, karate, tennis, skateboarding), I had become sedentary in early high school and it showed.

My father used to be a high-school basketball star and the guy was always in shape. In adulthood, he took up running. Every day, without miss, without stretching, regardless of the weather, he ran six miles around the neighborhood and loved every minute. Half-foot of snow? Off he went in his regular sneakers. Freezing rain? Home he came with little sweatcicles dangling off his ears (no joke). He also lifted weights with a barbell set in the basement. Sometime during my junior year, I picked up one of his weight-lifting books and learned the basics: bench press, squat, dead lift. It was a great book that covered the fundamentals and had black-and-white photos of each lift, performed by muscular guys with 70s hair styles and tube socks pulled all the way up to their knees. And three times a week I went downstairs after school and pumped iron.

I made good progress. Anyone who starts a strength-training program sees the best results early on, when the body’s getting shocked out its doldrums, and of course a teenager responds faster than anyone to exercise. I didn’t get huge or ripped, and I couldn’t compete with athletes who worked out harder and more regularly, but I lost that adolescent baby fat and felt good. I was fit and more confident. And as with any success, it encouraged me to grow in other areas of my life.

The next big change was a job at the local ice cream joint, The Snowman. My uncle had worked there as a teenager and introduced me to the boss–a tiny, hyperactive ex-Marine we called Bake, who smoked two packs of Marlboros a day, drank way too much coffee and Molson Golden, slept four hours a night, worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met, and was as liable to fly into a comic rage as he was to goof off in the most spectacular, juvenile ways. He hired me on the spot. Best boss I ever had.

He gave me a work ethic I rely on to this day. In addition to scooping the hard ice cream and mastering the tall, sculptured spirals of the soft, we did all the arithmetic, including taxes, in our heads or with a pencil and rang people up on a great old million-lbs. register with really satisfying buttons. We scrubbed counters, swapped out empty ice-cream tubs, refilled the milk dispenser, mopped the floor, and picked up trash and cigarette butts in the parking lot. And after hours of a long summer night with hundreds of customers, the place looked brand new for the following day and it felt good, excellently good, to sit in the back with coworkers and relax.

It was hard work with a wonderful crew. Slackers tended to quit of their own accord because the rest of the gang had a natural team mentality and liked each other; you either busted ass like the rest of us or you didn’t belong there. Which is not to say I was constantly a World Class Soda Jerk. I wasted plenty of time on rainy or otherwise sluggish days. I did my homework there, and wrote bad poetry, and read a lot, and that became part of my work ethic, too. If everything was clean and there weren’t any customers to serve, I filled the hours with my own activities. I took this approach, as you’ll see in a later installment, into the corporate world of midtown Manhattan, where it worked as well as it had at The Snowman. But for now, suffice it to say that I was learning to work like a grownup and handle responsibility, be part of a team, and appreciate the kind of pure, full job that’s tough to come across these days.

By “full job” I mean it was all contained in that one tiny building. We often helped to make the ice cream right there on the premises, scooped the finished product onto a cone, watched a person eat it, and collected the money that would ultimately yield our hourly wage. In most other jobs, you do one segment of a larger whole: data entry, or phonecalls, or a tiny little thing that matters, in some mysterious way, to a company you’re never quite invested in and therefore struggle to care about. But I cared about The Snowman because it was right there in front of me. Those cigarette butts strewn around the parking lot were messing up my place of employment, and I came to take a strange pride in cleaning them up and attending to other duties, big and small, in most of my shifts. I got good at turning triple-scoop cones upsidedown into the chocolate dip without the whole thing falling on the floor. I still get huffy when I’m served a crooked soft serve.

As I was learning at the time, pride in one’s work is a great thing, and the best jobs are the ones where you’re directly responsible for as much of the process as possible. These were all lessons I’d eventually take to writing, a job where people might offer you encouragement or advice, but where it’s finally up to you and requires the half-military, half-childlike enthusiasm so perfectly represented by our boss at The Snowman. I’ve written at least two characters, both of them heroes, that drew heavily on his vibe. And although it would take a long time for me to fully apply that Snowman work ethic to my creative life, it eventually made novel-writing one of the few activities that satisfied me as much as working at an ice cream parlor.

One of my coworkers was a guy a year behind me in high school. I’d gone to grammar school with him, too, and had always known him without really knowing him. Suddenly there we were, slinging ice cream and joining the cross country team at the same time, and right from the start our interests clicked and, probably more importantly, we laughed at the same things–often wordlessly–in the manner of very old friends. He came from one of those old-school Roman Catholic families with a hundred siblings. His father taught Latin and his mother was a homemaker, and they were one of the kindest, most nourishing families I’ve ever known. They were all readers, too. They didn’t just have books in the bathrooms; they had bookcases.

I considered him my best friend almost immediately. I can’t imagine such a thing happening now. The older I get, the longer it takes to form new friendships, since I’m inclined to stick with family and current friends. There’s a reticence about me that I can’t entirely explain… a wariness of starting something as profound as genuine friendship. But yes: he was a great friend, and I still consider him so, even though we talk only a few times a year, and only over the phone, because we each have families and live hundreds of miles apart. We have our own daily work and busyness to deal with now, but back then, in high school, we knew all the same people and liked the same things and talked every day.

He was already reading the usual literary guy stuff like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and with all of his brothers around, there was always some album to discover by Dylan or Springsteen or R.E.M. Achtung Baby! was released around then and changed the way I thought about music. Twins Peaks changed the way I thought about TV, and stories, and coffee. Our minds were opening up a full year before college, which is traditionally when that type of awakening occurs. It was thrilling. I was building an identity on purpose for the first time in my life, and even though it was mostly posturing and pretension, there was real change going on and the world was full of possibility.

We started hanging out a lot, Dead Poets style, of course, convinced that we were remarkable young men, ready to challenge the status quo and become the next Raymond Carver. We wound up winning 2nd and 3rd prizes in a local poetry contest (a poem about graffiti won 1st) and received autographed copies of a book by the award-winning author Alice Fulton, who signed mine: “Dennis–Poetry Is the Blood Jet.” I had no idea Ms. Fulton was referencing Sylvia Plath, and the blood-jet was excellently creepy to a couple of sixteen-year-olds, especially since my friend’s inscription was more along the lines of “Congratulations! Keep Writing.”

If you haven’t read the previous installment of this series, do so now, because you need to see exactly how atrocious my teenage writing was. When I unearthed that notebook of early poetry and started to read, I found it so appalling that I actually felt my blood pressure rise. And then I noticed a telling characteristic of the poems: they’re all written longhand, and dated, with virtually no alterations. I occasionally struck-out something like “clothes” in favor of “garments”, presumably because garments was more poetic. But none of them were ever revised. I’d have set them in type, or stone, or stamped them onto the brains of unwary readers without hesitation because I believed, and continued to believe for a very long time, in the natural genius of quality writers. The Great Ones, I was certain, tapped into the universe and, through mystic revelation, wrote what lesser writers failed to discover due to lack of vision, or sensitivity, or whatever the hell I was so convinced I had.

I was coughing up Brilliant Poems by the hour. There was a girl I wound up dating who had tons of these things slipped into her locker between classes. I must have written her half-a-dozen a week, and she was apparently flattered enough to keep them all, even after she dumped me, and has since mock-threatened to reveal them to the world if I ever become a famous writer.

My memory of meeting her is hazy. She was already pals with my friend from The Snowman and we all started spending time together. I never understood why the two of them didn’t get together, but I knew better than to press the issue because wanted to date her. She was thoroughly my type: out of my league. She had a boyfriend in another school. There were a lot of those faceless troublemakers back in the day, as if competing with my own classmates hadn’t been difficult enough. I don’t remember much about him except that I classed him in the jock/enemy camp and saw a golden opportunity. All of my sensitive guy training, all of my 20th-century fiction references, all of my exercise and pretense had led to this… and so I waited, like a literary mountain lion, ready to pounce the moment her boyfriend acted like a jerk.

Which didn’t strictly happen. They just kind of broke up, and I didn’t leap boldly into action, and it finally came down to her flirting with me before I had enough confidence to ask her out. Even then I had to verify her subtle hints (which were probably glaring) by asking my friend to ask her, et cetera, and once I knew that suggesting a date would be a slam-dunk, I went for it, still terrified of rejection and undoubtedly showing lots of unmanly relief when she said yes.

She was my first real kiss. This is senior year, remember. Most other people had been kissing since grammar school. Talk about a confidence boost. Everything I’d bet on, everything I’d worked for, had yielded something much more inspiring than 2nd Place in a local poetry contest. A year earlier, I would have had no business dating this girl. She was smart (3rd in her graduating class) and attractive and fun. She thought I was smart, too–I had totally fooled her–and we dated for half a year and went to the prom. And then she broke up with me over the summer. I was going to college and she was a year behind me, so splitting up made sense. But I think she must grown weary of my intensity: the constant romantic gestures, the flowers, the sunsets, the mixtapes, the poems.

I was devastated when it happened–completely caught off guard–but in retrospect even that was a great experience. Nothing says young writer like unrequited love, and I milked that broken heart down to its last quivering drop. I was pretty much over the whole thing by the middle of freshman year, when I majored in English, and kept on writing, and started falling in love with other girls who didn’t love me back.

I’d come a long way and hit the college ground running. I was only months away from writing my first novel, and a lot of my posturing was turning, for better or worse, into bona fide personality traits. But that’s another story…

Check back again (or subscribe to this blog in the righthand column) for Part 3 of How I Became a Writer: “The Most Valuable Useless Degree in the World”.