Great Interview with Author Jonathan Corcoran

corcoran_jonathanThe town I grew up in was a little pinpoint of civilization surrounded on all sides by mountains and miles of forests… I know my stories wouldn’t be as successful without the looming mountains or the swiftly flowing rivers.

Hear, hear! This sentiment is one of many that drew me to the multi-talented and quite charming author (and Brooklynite) Jonathan Corcoran, whose debut collection of linked stories, The Rope Swing, explores the unique setting of economically-isolated Appalachia and the complex people who inhabit its “looming” mountainsides and riverbanks.

Are you surprised, precious reader, at my natural affinity for the natural world? There’s nothing unnatural about it. I’m a woodland denizen, by Zeus’ sandal straps! A so-called “sasquatch,” although I prefer sans-quatch; it sounds more literary. My given name is Chester, but I tell the voters to call me Chet.

Msr. Corcoran asserts, during the course of an energetic interview at The Rumpus, that “This book, as a project, was certainly a meditation on the notion of cusps and cliffs.” Cliffs! I swoon! You had me at “looming mountainsides,” dear sir! Corcoran goes on to say:

In the stories that focus on queer life and love specifically, I wanted to show readers how these tiniest of decisions, or moments of indecision, have the potential to impact a body for a lifetime, and how these very personal decisions are often forced upon people under the heavy weight of an often-hostile external world.

A weighty topic, to be sure, and one that this author discusses at great length and with such attractive perspicacity, thanks to his interviewess, the talented poet and essayist, Mlle. Melissa Adamo. Read her poetry here and follow her tweetings at @mel_adamo.

Hats off to The Rumpus for finding these two lovely creatures. I hope to see much, much more from them in the future.

Purchase The Rope Swing from Amazon immediately, humans, if you value your reputations.

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The Caviar of Podcasts

Succulent aromas. Mouth-watering flavors. Palate-tingling, tender textures. blue-fin-tunaThese are only a few of the thoroughly understated ways I could begin to describe my favorite podcast, Words for Dinner, the most delicious auditory feast I have had the fortune to experience.

Have you a craving for duck foie gras? Roe from a bluefin tuna? Fret not. Words for Dinner is more delectable than these, and cheaper. In fact, it is free of charge.

O wandering ear of digital erudition! How I honor you with this, Episode 11 of Words for Dinner – “Decadent.”

I recommend you subscribe to it forthwith, humans, and save yourself the indignity of ignorance when you next dine with a more-enlightened creature than yourself, and he asks  you, have you partaken in the sonic smorgasbord that is all the rage? Partake, you! Go forth and partake.

Thoughts from F. Scott Fitzgerald

f-scott-fitzWhen the initial sales of his mediocre book The Great Gatsby failed to meet expectations, Fitzgerald expressed his disappointment in a letter to his editor, Max Perkins. In the letter, he decried the trend at the time of honoring the so-called “American peasant.” Wrote Fitzgerald:

Some day they’ll eat grass, by God! This thing, both the effort and the result have hardened me and I think now that I’m much better than any of the young Americans without exception.

Do you notice the barely-concealed contempt for grassy cuisine? He went on, however, to declare that:

There’s no point in being an artist if you can’t do your best.

I can’t disagree there, although, on the whole, I dare say I give better advice to young artists. For example, I was the first to utter the now-ubiquitous commonplace, never wipe your hindquarters with bark. That was me.

For that little gem and innumerable others, follow me on the Tweeter at @City_Sasquatch

(Notes on F. Scott from the laudable biography by Andrew Turnbull)

NY Times Has Something To Say About… Germans?

One of the greatest radio personalities of all time, Jonathan Schwartz of New York City’s NPR affiliate, made an interesting reference on the air this weekend. He mentioned a recent book review in the New York Times by Michiko Kakutani. In fact, he mentioned it several times, in between long pauses during which I assumed he had fallen asleep. To my satisfaction, Msr. Schwartz was not losing consciousness, but rather reveling in the rich subtext of the article, which ostensibly reviewed a book on Adolf Hitler’s rise to power titled Hitler: Ascent.

The author’s neat bullet points bring out salient elements of the dictator’s personality, including his narcissism, opportunism, effective public speaking skills, ability to appeal directly to his audience’s emotions, grim worldview, and perhaps most strikingly, his apparent failure to “recognize the difference between lies and truth.” These points stand out so starkly, given this country’s current political climate, that I had to lean back in my alpaca hide-lined antique rocking chair and adjust my monocle pensively to consider the ramifications of the piece. What to make of it? Is there any current political figure to whom the author might be attempting to compare the Nazi dictator?

Anyone at all?

It’s on the tip of my tongue. I will be sure to notify you when it materializes. If you think of it before me, do tweet it to me @City_Sasquatch.

Today’s Recommended Fiction

Keith Gessen, novelist and editor of Brooklyn journal n+1, published a fascinating essay called “Money” in Chad Harbach’s outstanding anthology MFA Vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction. Gessen tells the story of the time he taught a creative writing class while simultaneously going through the final editing process on a feature article destined for a magazine. Juggling teaching responsibilities with the demands of the publishing industry took a toll on him.

I sympathize with Mssr. Gessen. Or rather, I sympathize with my sympathy for him. If Yale would only return my emails, I would have a tenured position on the English faculty and, therefore, I would also have something cutting to say about the burden of grading papers and creating lesson plans on top of the vocation of writing. Ah well, good things come to those who… forget it, I’ll get to the point.

I shall now note, for your benefit, my erudite reader, a few works of fiction that Gessen included in the syllabus for his workshop, works that should cause the dedicated writers among us to perk up their ears. Those stories include:

  • George Saunders’ “Sea Oak”
  • Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
  • Curtis White’s “Combat”
  • Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections
  • Chris Kraus’s “Trick”
  • Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus

A promising reading list, to be sure. Have at it! And let me know which is your favorite at @City_Sasquatch.

 

Guest List for Parties I Will Host When I’m Famous

A photo by Quentin Dr. unsplash.com/photos/gvm_Kmm3-9o

  • Lorin Stein and his entire family (including pets)
  • Teju Cole
  • Taro Gomi, author of Everybody Poops
  • Jack Nicholson
  • My running mate for President of the United States, a seagull
  • Bill Clinton
  • John McPhee
  • My cousin Earl
  • Lena Dunham, of Girls
  • Michael Cunningham
  • Ann Beattie 
  • Kanye West
  • This penguin, who wears a backpack full of fish
  • Marty, the Alaskan ranger from the program Mountain Men
  • The ghost of Truman Capote
  • Melvin, the man who stands on the corner outside the 24-hour deli

…and you! You can RSVP to be placed on the guest list @City_Sasquatch or at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net

Book Recommendation of the Month: Wasp Queen

Wasp-Queen-COVERAh, a cheery morning to you, my bipedal comrades! It is especially cheery because I have a book recommendation for you.

And so, I give unto you the thrilling poet Claudia Cortese’s poetry collection, Wasp Queen, forthcoming in December from Black Lawrence Press. Cortese’s brave and unblinking work appears in such publications as Blackbird, Crazyhorse, and The Offing. An excerpt from Wasp Queen can be found on the latter journal’s site. Read more about her on her author page at Claudia-Cortese.com. Her writing does not shrink from the hard truths of modern life.

Go forth, humanoids, and read! If you have a suggestion for my next Book Recommendation of the Month, email me at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net or tweet me @City_Sasquatch.

What I’m Reading

In a detailed how-to piece on submitting to literary magazines, Ryo Yamaguchi says, “I write to trend, and I write against it.” In other words, pay attention to what other writers are doing, but don’t let that trap you. I recommend perusing the rest of the article, which can be found on The Michigan Quarterly Review’s delightful blog. Thanks also to The Review Review for tipping me off.

joy williams godIn an earlier post on this distinguished internet thingie, I referred to an interview by editor Lincoln Michel with the esteemed and strange author Joy Williams. And what do I find today, but an excerpt of her new collection, Ninety-Nine Stories of God, courtesy of the irrepressible resource, Lithub.

…Which also published this thought-provoking overview of books that stimulate – some more mildly than others – the human emotion known as empathy. I’ve encountered that emotion before. It being (as I mentioned) a human trait, what little experience I did get with empathy fredric jameson antimoniesgave me gas. I don’t recommend it.

(The latter article points to Fredric Jameson’s scholarly tome, The Antimonies of Realism, which Lithub makes out to be a perfect object to read ostentatiously on the curb outside Lorin Stein’s apartment. They paraphrase Jameson’s opinion on the contemporary time period known as “modernity” thusly: Jameson believes that modernity creates an “irreconcilable divorce between intelligibility and experience, between meaning and existence.” Quite so! My thoughts exactly. But then again, I never assumed that meaning and existence were dating? Forgive me, but isn’t it in bad form to presume knowledge of a couple’s relationship without any verifiable evidence thereof? Harumph. Perhaps I am unforgivably antiquated in my notions about etiquette.)

Iowa, Frank Conroy, and the Secret to Writing Fiction

Like all good mythological beasts, I have a ghostwriter. Although that is his official title, I noticed some time ago that he lacks very many ghostly qualities. In fact, he smells faintly of cheeseburgers, despite the fact that apparitions, as far as I can tell, maintain strictly herbivorous diets.

At any rate, my ghostwriter (in the flesh or otherwise) recommends an essay anthology called MFA vs. NYC, edited by N+1 founder Chad Harbach. The book investigates the premise that today’s literary world has become distinctly bilateral, one hemisphere being the academic and the other being the urban landscape of the Big Apple.

In an essay titled “The Pyramid Scheme,” former MFA’er and Frank Conroy student Eric Bennett provides a healthy criticism of the oldest and most venerable of creative writing programs, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Of Conroy, Bennett claims that he hated “the ‘cute stuff'” and advocated a metaphorical view of the short story that could be described thusly:

[Conroy] wanted literary craft to be a pyramid. He drew a pyramid on the blackboard and divided it with horizontal lines. The long stratum at the base was grammar and syntax, which he called ‘Meaning, Sense, Clarity.’ The next layer, shorter and higher, comprised the senses that prose evoked: what you tasted, touched, heard, smelled, and saw. Then came character, then metaphor… I can’t remember the pyramid exactly, and maybe Conroy changed it every time. What I remember for sure is that everything above metaphor Conroy referred to as ‘the fancy stuff.’ At the top was symbolism, the fanciest of all. You worked from the broad and basic to the rarified and abstract.

Fascinating. I think I understand. Let me see if I can reproduce this famous author’s proposed diagram. Shouldn’t be too difficult. I am a visual learner, after all. Is this what he meant?

conroys pyramid

My ghostwriter is nodding. It seems I’ve grasped Conroy’s secrets quite quickly.

If you or your colleagues hail from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and would like to recruit me for an open-ended teaching contract, you may email me at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net or twit me @City_Sasquatch.