What is the plural of “apparatus?” What does the world have against Jonathan Franzen? Why, oh why, would someone think it’s a good idea to remake RoboCop? The WITTScasters tackle these and other heady issues in another wild card episode.
Where are you going, where have you been? This week, the WITTScasters talk about place in fiction: what makes a place pop on the page, the merits of real, imaginary, and generic settings, and the difference between accuracy and authenticity. Plus, the boys start the day off right with Etgar Keret’s story “Healthy Start.”
- Etgar Keret’s “Healthy Start” is available in the Tin House vault, along with lots of other amazingness.
- The Aljazeera America article that sparked Jon’s curiosity about writers of place (despite its high BS quotient).
- Brian wasn’t kidding about Boulder’s history with beat poetry. Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, and Naropa University made it ground zero for the movement.
- Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is the quintessential story cycle about place (though James Joyce’s Dubliners is not without its merits).
- Hudson Valley literature represent!
- Brian tried hard to think of short stories that a) prominently featured place, and b) weren’t part of a story cycle. He only managed to come up with Bobbie Ann Mason’s “Shiloh” (and had false starts with selections from The Things They Carried, Knockemstiff, and Rock Springs, sorta. Ben added Close Range.)
- Though the common theme in Richard Ford’s A Multitude of Sins is adultery, place is well developed throughout.
- Hills. Motorcycles. What are you waiting for? Go read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
- Jon digs the New Orleans novels of James Lee Burke, though he’d like to see a little less lip service to local tourist spots like Cafe Du Monde. Ben offers up John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces as the perfect salve.
- GREAT CITY BOOKS: Roth’s American Pastoral (Newark, NJ), Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago (uh, Chicago), Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City (Washington, D.C.), and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (New York).
- Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin and the novels of Don Delillo are exceptional additions to the crowded canon of great New York books.
- The WITTScasters make it official: Noir is the literature of Los Angeles. See: Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
- Speaking of Hammett, the city of Personville in his novel Red Harvest (one of Brian’s all-time top 10) is a thinly veiled version of Butte, Montana.
- Jon liked the depiction of the New Jersey projects in Richard Price’s Freedomland, even if the book as a whole is flawed.
- Steven Millhauser: the mayor of imaginary places.
- Jon doesn’t fully trust the Midwest.
- Boulder’s Pearl Street is a cabinet of fictional wonders for Brian.
- There was just something in the air about Key West’s Duval Street that made Jon want to write about it.
- The desert landscape east of San Diego has haunted Ben for years.
- Sharon McCrumb on Appalachia.
- Well, that settles that. And also that.
- Mozart, in translation.
We’re obsessed! In Episode 29, the WITTScasters discuss obsessions in writing: different levels of obsessions, their own particular obsessions, and whether it’s wonderful or horrible to see your own obsessions in someone else’s work. Then it’s on to Kate Braverman’s creepy story about addiction, “Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta.”
- Kate Braverman’s “Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta” is available at her website.
- That’s Kate Braverman, not Kate Moss.
- Michael Chabon, in an interview with our own Brian Beglin, admitted an obsession with sets of three dependent clauses. You can read that interview (plus an interview with Kate Bernheimer by the other two WITTScasters) in the collection Telling Stories, Talking Craft. Chabon explains that to achieve the clipped voice of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, he adopted a stop-and-frisk policy for his sentences, making sure they weren’t smuggling any extraneous similes before he’d allow them on the page.
- Jon’s not alone in his tooth-sucking obsession. The very first word of Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz is “Sth,” which is a tooth-suck if Jon ever read one.
- Ben’s love of the futile gesture is satisfied by Updike’s “A&P” as well as the song “Shotgun Wedding” from Jason Isbell’s spectacular album Sirens of the Ditch.
- Brian has seen his own obsessions in Tony Earley’s “Charlotte” from Here We Are in Paradise (wrestlers), Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (communicating with gorillas), and Stephen Dobyns’ The Wrestler’s Cruel Study (which Brian can’t bear to read because it has wrestlers and gorillas).
- Jon would read The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant if he hadn’t scratched the itch of his bootlegging obsession by writing his own damn whiskey book (coming out April 2014, Hub City Press). You can pre-order a copy of The Whiskey Baron with the assurance that Jon’s got the tooth sucking well under control.
- Of course, we don’t only enjoy books that touch on our obsessions. Brian’s appreciation of Charles Baxter includes Feast of Love, which explores the theme of life-as-performance that Brian is drawn to, and Saul and Patsy, which doesn’t.
- Leave it to Jon to dig up Conversations with Philip Roth, which includes some interesting thoughts on obsessions.
- “Tall Tales of the Mekong Delta” was published in Kate Braverman’s collection Squandering the Blue.
- In the negotiation that is central to the Braverman story, Jon heard echoes of Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
In Einstein’s famous equation, E=MC^2, time is a variable inversely proportional to distance, thus ensuring the speed of light remains a const– Oh, wait. This is a fiction writing podcast, which means your hosts investigate how you handle time in a scene and the relationship between time and pace. Then they enter the spooky world of Mary Gaitskill’s “The Other Place.”
- Mary Gaitskill’s “The Other Place,” over in the New Yorker. Here’s some lagniappe the WITTScasters didn’t see before the discussion.
- Ahem, The Whiskey Baron, coming out from Hub City Press, April 2014.
- Nothing really to do with fiction, but Ben recommends Alan Lightman’s Einsteins Dreams.
- The three-character, three-time technique shows up in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Liza Ward’s Outside Valentine, and Bret Lott’s Ancient Highway.
- Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude use time in such a way that the stories become about time.
- In his discussion of Heideggar in Prophets of Extremity, Allan Megill suggests that nostalgia and futurism are both symptoms of dissatisfaction with the present.
- Do people read Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice anymore?
- Hemingway makes some bold leaps in time in The Sun Also Rises.
- Do people read doorstops anymore? Brian read Karl Malantes’s Matterhorn.
- Leap through time like some kind of imaginaut in Joe Meno’s story “Women I Have Made Cry,” from his collection Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir.
This week, the WITTScasters trade in their boxy station wagon of fiction for the sexy, reckless sports car of poetry. The boys wade into some general poetry questions — given their quick nature and our short attention spans, why aren’t poems more popular? — before taking deep dives into poems by B.H. Fairchild, Richard Siken, and Elizabeth Bishop.
- We read poems by B.H. Fairchild, Richard Siken, and Elizabeth Bishop to help ground us in discussion, all of which are available here.
- Huge congrats to Laura Donnelly, winner of the 2013 Cider Press Review Editor’s Prize! Her debut poetry collection Watershed will be published in August 2014! (In the meantime, tide yourself over with her chapbook Nocturne – Schumann’s Letters.)
- Though we mentioned it already in episode 23, this interview with Christine Schutt is so nice we’re plugging it twice.
- Get a poem emailed to you every day.
- It’s not the subway, but “This Is Just To Say” reads just as well without the faint smell of urine in the background.
- This Twitter feed has been scrubbed in the recent past. Rest assured, it used to be awesome.
- stanza [stan–zuh]: like an act break, but in a poem.
- That kid in “Body and Soul” sure looks a lot like the Punisher.
- The all-important distinction between a poem’s subject and its trigger is explained in Richard Hugo’s seminal craft book The Triggering Town.
- Ben first read “Little Beast” in Richard Siken’s gritty, violent collection Crush.
- A truly horrible version of “Sex Is Violent” by Jane’s Addiction.
- None of the WITTScasters can make much sense of Kay Ryan’s work, though they can appreciate the talent.
- Ben, Brian, and Jon all got to know poets/professors Donald Platt and Marianne Boruch at Purdue.
- Ezra Pound: unreadable?
- When Jon thinks of poetry, he thinks of Bishop’s “Under the Window: Ouro Preto.”
- Ben and Laura thoroughly enjoyed (though maybe not for the right reasons) the play Dear Elizabeth at the Yale Repertory Theatre, the ending of which sounds a hell of a lot like this.
- Elizabeth Bishop reads “The Fish.” How enthusiastic she was about it is up for debate.
- Full disclosure: In addition to the other three poems, we also read and and planned to talk about August Kleinzahler’s “Before Dawn on Bluff Road” and Russell Edson’s “A Stone Is Nobody’s,” but we didn’t have time. Guess we’ll save them for “Poetry Part II: This Time, It’s Iambic.”