AWP 2011 – Washington D.C.

Wednesday (02.02.2011): Wake up at 5:45am.  Kansas City just got record snowfall and I need enough time to pack and get all the snow and ice off my girlfriend’s Explorer because my Benz is like a kid with palsy on bad roads.  The messenger bag is filled with my immediate needs: novels for the plane, iPod, Vicodin, headphones, camera, pens, legal pads, etc.  Clothes are in the Guess bag.  I kiss my girlfriend good-bye and it’s a different kind of kiss than when I’m going to work or the store because she believes in plane crashes.  My dog looks at me and goes back to sleep.  My PR guy rides with me to pick up Caleb J. Ross (another author on the label).  His neighborhood is drenched in snow; worse than my downtown area.  We go to McDonald’s for breakfast because we’re running early.  I have $1 menu items, and it’s difficult for me to not order double what I actually get because I have an affinity for cheap fast food like some guys have for cheap fast women.  Drop off.  Hug good-bye.  “Good luck” and all that.  Our plane is one of four departing flights through Delta that isn’t cancelled.  I get Starbucks.  The male barista gets deep on me about the beauty of snow and I fail at being congenial.  We’re both mutually weirded out.  One last smoke.  We get on the plane that connects to ATL.  There’s a smoking lounge sponsored by Heineken in the airport that Caleb and I go to.  The waitress says I have to order something in order to smoke in the lounge.  I’m done before she even brings back menus or water, and we get cheap fast food.  Then we go to D.C.  Ride the subway after spending ten minutes trying to figure out the map.  I photograph it and make it my background on my cell.  We have no subway in Kansas City.  I feel like a kid at Space Mountain when it comes to riding the subway.  Wear sunglasses and try not to smile like a dork.  We get to the Marriott around 1:00pm.  Or 2:00.  Not sure.  Check in and the room is just like the two-bed rooms in Dallas and L.A. and Chicago.  Floorplan cloning.  I’ve written about this before.  Caleb and I register for the conference.  He paid over $100 and I only paid $40 because I said I was a student.  I’m not.  Haven’t been for years.  We take a lap around the bookfair and it’s miles of white and blue tables.  None of them interest me more than the others.  My head isn’t in it yet.  We go to a pub and get beer and these things called cottage fries.  I’m Facebook updating like a maniac about this remarkable mundane things because they seem so much more interesting in new locales.


We only have about two beers even though the $2 happy hour isn’t over for another 30 minutes.  I hit up CVS and a liquor store for vodka and cranberry juice.  Caleb gets a Blue Moon artisan because he doesn’t drink hard liquor.  Nik Korpon shows up; another author on the label.  He’s got a little Rivers Cuomo thing going on only more talented.  We drink and drink and talk about author shit and I crash early and sleep for about twelve hours.  Thursday (02.03.2011): Wake up around 10:00am.  First night in a new bed is always a nightmare.  Back is killing me.  Get McDonald’s breakfast.  Nik and Caleb are disgusted by this for different reasons.  McDonald’s breakfast, I’m finding, is quite transgressive.  Nik has to sit at the Otherworld table at noon.  Caleb and I decide to catch a panel about the future of the book review run by Bomb Magazine.  For the most part, it’s mildly intriguing up until the point where a drunk wearing sunglasses starts getting nasty with one of the panelists.  You can tell she’s rattled but she deals with it because people with microphones have more power than people shouting from the back of rooms.  Her name is Emily and she looks like a Kardashian if a Kardashian was wholesome and hipster-ish.  We exit and hear people arguing over their differing opinions.  I chuckle because they think they’re accomplishing something.  Caleb is on a panel about social media as it relates to writers.  He’s funny and is the only one that isn’t taking himself completely seriously.   Nik Korpon is sitting next to me.  The moderator of the panel is on a laptop that she displays on a screen stage right.  I realize that I can tap in with my phone on the AWP11 hashtag on Twitter and start Tweeting inappropriate things. 

Nik photographs this.  We grab dinner at a pizza joint.  It’s the size of a small basement and the pizza is decent, at best.  Their credit card machine is broken so I have to pay cash.  Back in the room, I have a couple drinks and we catch a cab for our reading at The Velvet Lounge.  The time is around 6:30 or so.  It looks shut down when we get there.  Some guy comes up with keys and says we can’t come in until later.  Michael Sonbert and his girlfriend show up in a cab while we’re on the street.  It’s the first time I’ve met him after talking for nearly nine months or so.  We go next door and have beers.  My agent shows up.  He’s young and tall and New York-looking.  The line-up for the reading is made on the back of a flyer.  I’m up first.  We all head back to The Velvet Lounge and now we’re waiting on the sound guy.  It’s a dirty little armpit of a bar and perfect for us.  Our purposes and content.  I don’t fault them for being late because I almost expect it.  Another round next door.  We head back twenty minutes later and everything is set up.  Sparse audience.  Around fifteen or twenty.  Caleb sets up the recording equipment.  We’re starting so late that we have to cut our pieces down.  I read “Carl.”  It’s about a cold sore trying to get back to Vegas.  I’m surprised my sick sense of humor goes over so well: “Carl”  The rest of the line-up reads and drinks in turn.  We all do really well.  We sound polished.  The audience eats what we feed them.  I start to wonder if this is how it always is.  The reading concludes on Jesus Angel Garcia going unscripted but flawless from his upcoming book.  The group of us head across the street to a gay sports bar for dinner, and then Nik, Caleb, and I head back to the hotel.  Nightcap.  Sleep.  Friday (02.04.2011): Wake up.  McDonald’s breakfast again.  I have no energy.  End up reading a Dexter novel for most of the day because plans fall through and I have no cash for cabs.  The novel is a waste of time.  It’s season one of Dexter but not as good.  Have some coffee.  Have McDonald’s for lunch and hope I don’t break out.  Nik and Caleb and I eventually go to this place called Bourbon in which a reading is taking place, but I’m not sure for what label.  They have no microphone so the audience and staff is dead fucking quiet.  The audience doesn’t react or respond much to the words.  I eat tater tots and drink Thunder Cow beer.  The audience mostly sits quietly and doesn’t laugh or gasp or sigh and I wonder how “Carl” would go over with this audience.  Some prim and proper audience that considers masturbation a deep dark secret.  The bar cuts them off so the whole thing ends prematurely.  I find it very fucked up, despite myself.  We (Caleb, Nik, myself, Ryan W. Bradley, and Ben Tanzer) do a podcast about readings.  I usually black out during these things to a degree and am still waiting for it to post.  I smoke a cigarette and we get cabs to check out this other reading at a place called Mie N Yu, which I think is Persian-themed but I can’t be sure.  Lots of mirrors.  A belly dancer.  Foreign soundtrack.  More photographs should have been taken but I spaced it. 

We walk into the reading late and I wind up standing against the wall by the door for the first half.  The room is attentive and the authors are polished.  This is when I think about the difference between a reading and a performance.  There’s a difference.  There’s a big fucking difference.  Some things are meant to be heard out loud, I’m finding.  Some not.  I get a beer at intermission and watch myself drink it in about five different mirrors.  Part II is mostly female authors.  I love female authors when they talk dirty.  Such a crowd-pleaser.  The thing wraps and this author named Mary Miller tags along with us to dinner.   I have no idea who she is but she’s a big deal, apparently.  We go to a place called Armor which is comprised of three parts: a front bar, a back restaurant, and a club downstairs filled with underage cocaine Barbies.  I’ve written about this before.  We talk about writing and personal life over dinner. I’m the only one with no kids, no marriages, and no tattoos under my belt.  It’s almost like you can’t be taken seriously as a human being until you’ve done at least one of these.  Without these things, you can be treated like a 23-year-old at 28.  We cab it back to the Marriott.  Nightcap.  Sleep.  Saturday (02.02.2011): Wake up before my alarm is set to go off.  Shower.  McDonald’s breakfast (again).  It’s making Caleb sick.  Nik never got to eat the Ethiopian food he wanted even though I said he could get American food and sprinkle raisins on it.  My morning is spent packing and bullshitting about until noon.  Today I have to sit at the Otherworld booth, but I mostly spend the entire time people watching and fidgeting and realizing that I’m surrounded by my competition, and I feel smaller.  This is my reality check, a little voice saying, “You’re not even close yet,” and even though I knew that, it’s disconcerting to actually see it spread out over three enormous rooms.  This sticks with me all the way back home, to Kansas City, where my girlfriend and neighbor are waiting for us at the airport.  I’m scheming already: how to expand.  How do I come back bigger than I am next year?  I’ve got roughly one year to figure this out.  It’s a logic problem, some sort of complex algorithm, and I’ve written about those too.

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“Knockemstiff” review

Touted by Palahniuk as “more engaging than any new fiction in years,” I’d venture that his tastes are vastly different than mine, or that the one-book-per-year contract keeps him so busy that Knockemstiff was one of the few books he was able to get around to reading.

Practically speaking, Knockemstiff works as a collection given that there is a cohesive element. Pollock themes each story based on the inhabitants and grimy locales of this little town in southern Ohio. The lay of the land is palpable; you believe every incest pit and dirt road that Pollock feeds you, and the voice is perfectly spot-on for this backwoods revolving door of white trash, hicks, and trailer park monkeys. In that regard, Knockemstiff succeeds.

About a quarter of the way through is when the question of whether or not everyone in Knockemstiff is a filthy degenerate slips into the mind’s eye, and so the novel falls into the same pitfall that most collections do, a repetitive chorus–in this instance: depravity, depravity, depravity. The book is consistent, and therein lies the problem. If read one after the other, the barrage of these characters and their sad stories do what they intend to do, but even at a meager 200 pages, the effect quickly goes stale as you, the reader, put your proverbial guard up for the next sex scene between cousins or adventure in bad parenting. The walk of life through the town of Knockemstiff is one where only bad things happen, and the realization of this makes it that much easier to put it down.

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“Diamonds” published by Troubadour 21

“Diamonds” from the upcoming Vanity collection is now live at Troubadour 21.

Check it out here

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“Skinny Pester” published by Cannoli Pie Magazine

“Skinny Pester” from my upcoming Vanity collection gets published by food-themed lit mag, Cannoli Pie.

Download the whole mag for FREE in PDF by going here

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First Interview

My first interview is now live at The Cult.  Come check it out here

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The Contortionist’s Handbook review

Clevenger almost wound up as one of those guys I’d wish people would stop prattling on and on about.

“So brilliant.”
“Such a genius.”

And I was so incredibly sick of hearing it.

Dermaphoria was what I ended up cutting me teeth on regarding his work, and I must admit, I found myself struggling through it and wondering what all the fuss was about.

That didn’t stop me from picking up TCH when I finally found a copy for under $40, or more specifically, when MacAdam/Cage finally pulled their heads out of their asses and decided to give the book another print run. A movie deal and high demand can do that.

Nonetheless, my expectations were considerably low, and so the following read pertaining to an identity-shifting expert with an extra finger was that much more of a pleasant surprise. Palahniuk said, “…the best book I’ve read in five years. Easily. Maybe even ten years,” and I’m inclined to agree.

Clevenger spins a web of lies and identity crisis so complex, it’s a wonder that the reader doesn’t get lost in the details of how to fake a birth certificate or SR-22, but the author never shakes you…not unless he wants to. In TCH, we see John Dolan Vincent pitted up against “The Evaluator” for his freedom after an overdose, the story alternating between this battle of wits, tells, and intellect, and the seedy past of this protagonist of how he came use a deformity to his advantage. It reads similar to Palahniuk: minimalist with loads of factual information regarding the trade of forgery (we’ve seen this before with Jack and explosives in Fight Club), but unlike the one and two-star reviews on Amazon where Clevenger is ostracized for being a rip-off, it’s obvious to me that the author has made this style his own within the neo-noir genre.

Simply put, I see the influence, but nothing that would make me believe Craig wrote this thinking, “What would Chuck do?” And perhaps this is why his second novel turned out so different from his first…to distance himself from the name, the legacy, the style.

I wish he would return to it.

TCH is one of those books that when I put it down, I knew I’d read it again at least eight more times. I can’t recommend it enough.

To buy The Contortionist’s Handbook on Amazon, click here

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The Pitch article with corrections

Last Wednesday, I met up with a journalist from The Pitch, which in Kansas City terms, is sort of like our version of The Village Voice.  We had some drinks and pom frits (fancy fries) and talked about book stuff.  No tape recorder.  Nothing formal.  Just her asking probing questions about the last four years and me telling the story/giving anecdotes.  She admitted that she had not read any of the book, so I’m thinking this was more of an introductory sort of thing and that we would eventually meet up again. 

Not so.

Two days later the article goes up, and although she captured the spirit of things, I have to admit, I was a little shocked at the turnaround time.  I was also leaning on getting something in actual print, but as she would later explain to me, it would not likely happen for reasons unbeknownst to me.  I’m still not sure what constitutes print-worthy or not print-worthy.  Anyway…you can read the article here.

So let’s do the corrections:

  1. I’m quoted as saying “I don’t really have a niche.”  What I actually said was, “My stuff is very niche,” as in: it’s not commercial.
  2. In reference to the Chuck Palahniuk Anthology Contest, I’ve actually made finalist three times in six months, not eight.  That one might actually be a misstep by me due to too many beers.
  3. My second book, Vanity, will NOT be out later in 2010.  2011, at the earliest.  My agent needs to sell it first.
  4. Vanity is NOT a “keeping up with the Jones’s” story about a husband whose ex-wife’s credit-scorching shopping habits prompt him to hawk her designer handbags on street corners.  One of the stories is, yes, but that’s only a part of the larger work.
  5. My dog’s name is Dr. Croutons NOT Mr. Croutons.  Dr. Croutons is a girl and girls can be doctors.

So five varying mistakes in one little article.  That’s the risk you run when there’s no tape recorder, but I ain’t mad.  At the very least, I needed to set the record straight somewhere, though. 


Edit: The journalist  was nice enough to come by and correct a couple things.  Dr. Croutons’ good name has been restored!

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