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05-27-11: The Agony Column Live, May 21, 2011 With David Hayward and Lisa Lutz

"...when you got the other person's new chapter you had no idea what it was going to be..."

—David Hayward

Lisa Lutz and David Hayward, or, as it were, David Hayward and Lisa Lutz seemed pretty much born to entertain us. Bringing them together in front of an audience at the Capitola Book Café was amazingly easy, and their act is both funny and somewhat formidable. They're both charming and funny; our conversation started in humor and stayed there. Still, it is impossible to deny that the underpinnings of our conversation and their new book lie rooted in some pretty deep waters of literary criticism.

What the Capitola show and their collaborative meta-novel both demonstrate is how sophisticated we have become as an audience. The conceptual nature of what is being played for big, funny laughs in 'Heads You Lose' is complex literary theory; the intentional fallacy, and the definition of fiction, non-fiction, even the novel. The minutia of publication in the 21st century get some attention, as does the writing and revision process. The audience understands all of this, just to get the laughs rolling.

Before the show, I had just whipped through 'The Spellman Files,' and I was on something of an Izzy Spellman high. That prose voice was strong in my mind, and I was thinking a lot about how Lisa Lutz seemed to perform the voice in prose. I had emailed the authors beforehand and told them I wanted them each to read something they'd written on their own as well as a back-and-forth from 'Heads You Lose.' As much as I was thinking about Lisa's performance, I wasn't expecting her to show up with a scene from 'The Spellman Files' in script form, which the three of us read from — and you can hear that reading by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

05-25-11: A 2011 Interview with David Hayward and Lisa Lutz

"...we called those characters Author Lisa and Author Dave."

—David Hayward

Changes should always be incremental; one at a time. In theory, I should have just tried changing from my RE50 mics — rugged and reliable but large — to lavalier mics, and left that to that. But I thought that I could get video as well, and that's where I'll place the blame for the imperfect audio. I was so distracted getting picture and sound into the camera that I did not notice the mic I was using was clipping. All hail the de-clipping tool, which sort-of worked, at least enough so that listeners can enjoy my visit to Lisa Lutz manor, near Golden Gate Park.

Now, I only know that she lives near Golden Gate Park because she mentioned this during the live show we did last Saturday. Driving into San Francisco is still an adventure for me. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day to explore. While I am comfortable over by KQED and the South-of-Market Area, there's a lot of SF I have not seen. Lutz now lives in a lovely house on a wide street. Parking was easy, and the view was nice.

I got all the gear set up and did manage to get some sound into the camera. When we sat down to talk, it was just as much fun as reading their book. Lutz and Hayward have a great rapport; it's not quite as prickly as the novel might suggest, but there is a wonderfully fun tension that comes across.

My hope is that the authors tackle more collaborations. There is a lot of ground to explore here, and what they are doing is truly new. You can listen in by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

05-24-11: Michael Blumlein Interviewed at SF in SF on April 16, 2011

"..I fully expect that it's going to get in the wrong hands, and I fully expect that there's going to be eugenics performed..."

—Michael Blumlein

Michael Blumlein wanted me to know that he's not so dark as I might have assumed. Sure, the stories in 'The Brains of Rats' were, for the most part, verging on transgressive, but he told me that he is now writing from a different perspective. Of course, Blumlein is a doctor, and that gives him a perspective that many of us might consider by default, to be on the dark side.

This time, at SF in SF, he'd read the first part of a story about the implication of genetic testing, enough to give us a look at Blumlein as a doctor, and it was, to be sure, and very clear and informed perception. But as he and I talked about genetic testing, and how he had recently had a patient who had his own genome sequenced, things rapidly spun out of control; not the interview, but the possibilities that Blumlein fearlessly described.

I had just spoken with Michio Kaku before the Blumlein interview, and wanted to get Blumlein's take on the physics of medicine. And of course, I wanted to talk to him about his upcoming novel, 'The Domino Master.' I don't know why, but there is something inherently frightening about that title. It's sinister in a way that really gets under my skin, and Blumlein's description of it just makes me wish it would get released sooner rather than later. In the interim, when you are not getting your genome sequenced, or even while you are, you can follow this link to the MP3 audio file to hear our conversation.

05-23-11: A 2011 Interview with E. L. Doctorow

Click image for audio link.

"I've never been comfortable, as a short story writer with that very compact sense of things."

—E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow told me that he does not have a style; or rather that his style is each work he writes, and none of them are the same. Sitting down to talk with one of America's most prolific and iconic writers is somehow easier when you are doing so in the busy lobby of a hotel in downtown San Jose. But then E. L. Doctorow knows this business of writing, and is always interested in talking about what he does. He's not just one of our best writers; he's also one of the best writers who can talk about his own work.

My job was made much easier because my son Dietrich was on hand to tape an HD video of the conversation. Thus, about halfway through the interview when I realized that I'd parked our car in a "Tow Away if parked longer than ..." space, and that we were approaching "longer than," Dietrich remembered to run to the car and moved it just as it was being ticketed for a tow away. I was able to continue in complete oblivion. The photo above is a still from that video.

Doctorow's ability to talk about his writing is in part possible because he's truly able to listen to others talk about it as well. He approaches each work as a whole creation, does his job with the language, and then — and this is critical — let's the reader do the reading. He does not attach any preconceptions as to how his work should be read, and he is always intrigued by the variety of takes that readers come up with after reading a story. For example, in 'All the Time in the World,' I found that the first two stories, "Wakefield" and "Edgemont Drive" had strong elements of ghost story fiction in them, even though neither was concerned with the traditional supernatural definition of ghosts.

Yes, it's true that this was clearly in part because I'd just come from reading Robert Aickman's "strange stories" in 'Powers of Darkness.' But indeed, both of Doctorow's stories involve living men who haunt their houses in different ways, and Doctorow, who had not heard that take on the stories before found it interesting — and it occasioned from him the comment that he himself is interested in how his stories are read.

As we talked about the short story form, Doctorow made a distinction between the kid of story that he writes, which he calls a "tale," and what I tend to call the "kitchen window epiphany" story. As examples of the latter, he mentioned Joyce and Hemingway, and this led to an interesting discussion of voice in the story. Doctorow is the kind of writer whose thoughts will change the way you read not only his fiction, but also fiction in general. You can hear our conversation even amidst the sea of sounds in the background of the hotel lobby by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

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Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with David Shields and Caleb Powell : "I read no book reviews any more; the level of discussion is really pedestrian." David Shields "I'm just saying it's a conflict of interest!" Caleb Powell

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