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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.

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

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.

I’ll Be President One Day

Trump and Clinton

Hello, everyone. My name is Chet the Sasquatch, and I am running for president. I would also like to take this opportunity to inform you that I have defecated in the bushes.

Forgive me. Have I offended you? No, not with the latter declaration, but the former. I apologize. Presidential election season is a truly nasty business. I understand why it might crinkle the more discerning noses among us.  But, having noted the tenor of political discourse in this country today, I thought I could boost my faltering campaign by taking the moral high ground and appealing to the highest common denominator. As I mentioned earlier, I have recently defecated in the bushes.

It was quite satisfying.

Furthermore, I am confident that this recent accomplishment – my vibrant, sonorous flatulence followed by my desperate sprint for that boxwood hedge over there, yes, the one with with plenty of shade underneath – makes me more qualified than at least half of the candidates now in the running for President of the United States.

And I am sure you will agree. Do I have your vote this November? Notify me of your adoration @City_Sasquatch. My campaign continues!

 

Burned! The Toast Is Closing!

burnt-toast

Alas, another reputable journal stops its presses. This time it’s the thoughtful online zine, The Toast, founded by Nicole Cliffe and “Dear Prudence” columnist Mallory Ortberg.

Slate magazine offers a wonderful list of ‘best ofs’ from the archives of The Toast. How did I miss “Let’s Make Meat Loaf A Lesbian Icon“?

Thanks to the untiring folks at The Review Review for tipping me off to this sad bit of news. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Follow me on Twitter @City_Sasquatch, you inimitable humans, so you don’t miss my next prescient prediction.

 

My Favorite Podcast for the People

keyboard

I am giddy with excitement this morning, humans, for a golden opportunity has fallen into my freakish lap. What sort of opportunity, you ask? The best kind. The most “awesome” kind, in fact.

I speak of the latest installment of my favorite podcast, Words For Dinner, a wonderful program about literature and language that has my intellectual sensors a-buzzing. Listen to their latest episode, which looks into the etymology and contemporary usage of the word “awesome,” on Podbean ,or download it right here.

Words To Live By

“The only giant monster you are destined to become is the huge freak you decide to be.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice, revised and edited for verity and practicality by yours truly. If this raises your spirits, then we (Ralph and I) have succeeded. Let me know @City_Sasquatch

Plimpton. George Plimpton.

plimpton-head-shot

As alluded to earlier this week, I’d like to share with you a particularly glittery list from the unmined ore deposit of the literate webternets.

Over at The Awl, Patrick Iber shares a list of the best “Literary Magazines for Socialists Funded by the CIA.” Yes, the best. I know you’ve been waiting for this, just as I have. In fact, this explains Bernie Sanders’ anxiety during public speaking engagements. Anticipation frays the nerves like nothing else.

The Paris Review’s appearance on this list was no surprise. It’s funding by the CIA was no secret. But I’d never heard of the Mundo Nuevo. Have you?

Read it over and let me know if you think the list is accurate. Thanks to The Review Review for sharing this wonderful article.