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Awful Interview: Jon Irwin

14 Nov

This is Jon Irwin. He wrote a book about Super Mario 2 for Boss Fight Books, and has a lot of things to say about video games in general. He also happens to be reading at the Phoenix Festival today in Atlanta! You should come see!

Vouched: So Jon, you’ve written a book about Super Mario 2. Can we talk a little bit about the Princess in that game? Also, why Super Mario 2? Why not the RPG Super Mario and the Legend of the Seven Stars? Princess Peach fought with a frying pan in that one, which I find more than a little misogynistic. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

 

You want female stereotypes? Go play Super Princess Peach, a game for the Nintendo DS where the Princess finally gets her first starring role. Instead of running or jumping, she uses her “power of emotion” to defeat enemies. Specifically: Joy, Gloom, Calm, and Rage. If you activate her Rage power, she catches on fire (the better to burn up baddies). Use the Princess’s Gloom power and she begins to cry; the tears hit the ground and cause plants to grow, giving you platforms on which to jump and reach new areas. On one hand, the use of emotions as actual gameplay mechanic is rather brilliant and like no other game I’ve played. But then there’s the whole “self-immolation” thing and the depiction of women as overly emotional tear buckets. What’s that? Answer the first question, you say? Why yes, let’s re-focus our attentions…

 

Gabe Durham, editor and co-founder of Boss Fight Books, reached out to me after reading some of my game criticism and essays in Kill Screen’s print magazine and daily website. He was starting this new press inspired by the 33 ⅓ series, where an author writes a short-ish book about a single music album. He thought the same model would work for video games. So last summer, he got in touch with prospective authors and laid the groundwork for a Kickstarter campaign to help the press get off the ground. (A campaign for Season Two is taking place now.) I was the last author he contacted; he wanted a book focused on a big franchise, something mainstream and something most people, avid gamers or not, were familiar with. The Super Mario franchise is one of, if not the biggest one out there. But the first sequel for the NES also has a weird history and has always been thought of as an outlier in the series since it looks and plays so differently. I thought the game had an interesting story to tell.

 

Vouched: It certainly does! What are some other video games that you believe deserve a time to shine. You know, maybe ones from less heralded series? I’ve got a lot to say about the entire Kings Quest series, as well as Myst/Riven, Lunar Silver Star Story, and Chrono-Cross.

 

Oh man. There’s so many crazy-interesting games. Gabe’s press could run for a hundred years and still have ample and worthy subjects. I’d love to read a book about the Rhythm Heaven or WarioWare games. Each are made by the same studio, and each are bizarre, frantic, and surprisingly skill-based. Rhythm Heaven is centered on keeping time with music, and WarioWare is more about instinct and quick decisions. Both have this zany humor that is also very sweet, a marked difference between the cynical, sarcastic humor one sees in a lot of “funny” games. The creators clearly care about things outside of gaming culture, which shows in the musicianship and variety of visual influences, and I’d love to hear how something so rich and weird and unique to an interactive medium (WarioWare could never be a film; the audience would go into epileptic fits) gets made.

 

I think video game culture is rife with fascinating stories to tell, and this goes beyond single games. The hardware itself can be a great foundation for narrative, between the building of its technology and the marketing of it as a consumer product to the people behind the scenes who orchestrate it all. I’d devour a book about the TurboGrafx-16, a system nobody talks about that competed with the SNES and the Sega Genesis. It tanked in America but was a huge success in Japan (known there as the PC-Engine). I had one as a kid and still have an odd fondness for it. In fact Ian Bogost, professor at Georgia Tech, co-edits a series that investigates computer hardware in this way, called Platform Studies. The high water mark for such writing, in my eyes,  is still The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. It’s about bringing a new computer to market in the ‘80s. The summary sounds dry and insider-y, but Kidder’s story is totally accessible, a fantastic, page-turning human drama.

 

Vouched: What’s so evocative about it for you? Would you write a Single Sentence Review of it for us? Right here right now?

 

“”The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder is about bringing a new computer to market in the ‘80s, and while the summary sounds dry and insider-y, Kidder’s story is totally accessible, a fantastic, page-turning human dram.”

 

That’s the Jerk Answer. Here’s another attempt:

 

“In Kidder’s Machine, we learn that what we build, using silicon and plastic, is no different than what we build with chromosomes and DNA: our inventions are our children, and they outlive us all.” Or something.

 

Vouched: Ha! Totally fair. Say, wouldn’t it be creepy to have a robot for a kid?

 

Oh, I don’t know. A “Sleep” button for restful nights. Duracell AA batteries for food. The high school track record in the 100M! Maybe having a robot would be awesome.

 

I really like the movie Artificial Intelligence, or A.I – you know, the one where Haley Joel Osment is a robot-child after a couple loses their real child in a pool accident. Was it a pool accident? I forget. Anyway, point is, lots of people railed on that movie for being over-long and too sentimental. But it’s also kind of messed up and presages a not-so-unrealistic future where people are engineered and manufactured. A hundred years ago farmers probably didn’t think potatoes could be “genetically modified.” Today robot-children seem like some Asimovian bedtime story to freak kids out you’re babysitting, but who knows? Maybe in another hundred years it’ll be common.

 

A question for you! Why “Awful Interviews,” and not Terrible ones? Or Interminable Interviews? I have the phrase “Awful Annie” in my head, and I’m wondering if that’s some doll from when we were kids… but then I Google’d it and apparently there’s a restaurant with that name and they have “the best omelets in town.

 

Vouched: Oh, I don’t know, awful ain’t the worst, but it ain’t great either. I like occupying that strange middle territory. Is this not awful enough? Or is it too terrible?

 

Is that your next question? Is the antecedent of “this” in “Is this not awful enough?”  our actual interview? Or are you referring to a hypothetical interview, the platonic INTERVIEW you had in mind when creating and naming said “Awful Interviews”?

 

In case of the former: Yes. This is awful enough.

 

But yeah, I’m all about the strange middle territory. My wife’s belly-button is like some undiscovered landmark tucked away in a deciduous forest, hiding in the corner of a western state, let’s say Montana. Soft and undulating. But with a kind of mysterious depth. Like: Does it stop there? Or does it go on?

 

Okay. NOW this is awful enough.

 

Vouched: Shit just got awkward. This is wonderfully awful, indeed! Say, are you pumped for Phoenix Fest? Tell us about it!

 

I’m so pumped. Did you know there’ll be live glass-blowing demonstrations? Glass-blowing! I love how the readings are a part of this larger melange of artwork going on throughout the day. Music! Glass! Murals! And good ol’ fashioned spoken words. A little for all the senses. Wait–will there be tastings? I think “taste” has been left out. This is a travesty. Since I’ll be reading from my book Super Mario Bros. 2, and since a notable item in that game is the turnip, I request some ambitious festival-goer to whip up an exotic turnip dish and serve it to happy passers-by. Perhaps turnips could take the place of potatoes in a delicious mashed turnip souffle?  Or roasted turnips, the natural sugars carmelizing under the high heat, lending the earthy veggies a hint of sweetness. Regardless: I can’t wait to see what happens on Saturday. And I hear we’ll be reading in an abandoned motel? Vacant for so long, but soon filled with strangers… sounds like my childhood.

Awful Interview: Jason Koo

6 Nov

Yup, it’s time for another post about how stoked we are for The Letters Festival! Next up to bat? The formidable and dashing poet Jason Koo, who’s trekking all the way from New York City to share his words with us. His most recent book of poetry, America’s Favorite Poem, was released by C&R press. As a patriot, I adore it. (More on that later.) Jason’s going to be reading alongside Lindsay Hunter, Morgan Parker and Jamie Iredell on Saturday, November 8th at the Rodriguez Room at the Goatfarm Arts Center. It’s definitely a “Don’t Miss” in our book. You can get yourself a ticket to that here.

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Vouched: Hey Jason! So, your most recent collection of poetry was “America’s Favorite Poem.” As a xenophobe, I’m really stoked about that. When did you realize that you had America’s Favorite Poem in you? Did Bruce Springsteen really like it too?  

The moment came a long time ago at a diner in Houston when I looked at a Heinz ketchup bottle. The label said “America’s Favorite Ketchup.” I thought that was absurd. Just calling your ketchup America’s favorite. Maybe they had the stats to back it up, but how would anyone know? So I decided to write America’s favorite poem. How would anyone know it wasn’t? I was thinking a lot about consumerism at the time and wrote a poem about all the shopping being done in Houston and beyond and called it “America’s Favorite Poem.” I published it, then didn’t like it anymore, so I kept it out of my first book. It may have been America’s favorite, but it wasn’t mine.  Later I wrote another poem about shopping in Target and becoming obsessed with brands almost against my will as I flipped through magazines like GQ. I was searching for a title–and thought, Fuck it, why not call this “America’s Favorite Poem” too? It’s not like anyone read the first one. Even though it was published–and America’s favorite! The new poem is also not my favorite, though it did make the second book–and became the title poem. Now, of course, I have to write America’s Worst Poem. Some people may already think the two America’s Favorite Poems are already America’s Worst Poems. All I know is I’m always introduced now as the “author of America’s Favorite Poem” and can take that shit to my grave (i.e. on my tombstone).

Bruce, of course, has always been a huge fan of my work.

Vouched: I really like that it all started with a bottle of ketchup. What’s your favorite condiment?

Salsa. Or barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce seems to go well with everything. Salsa not so much.

Vouched:  Any specific kind of BBQ?

I guess Kansas City style? Or St. Louis style? Missouri style? Texas style, too. Perhaps because I did all my graduate work in Texas and Missouri. I wrote poems and ate a lot of barbecue. Poems, too, taste better with barbecue sauce.

Vouched: I eat a lot of BBQ when I’m writing too! Was it The Phantom Tollbooth where they eat word sandwiches or something like that? If your poetry were a sandwich, would it be BBQ or something else?

I actually have a poem in my first book called “I’m Charlie Tuna” that details my sad obsession with–or overreliance on–a particular lunch plate while living in Missouri: tuna salad sandwich, barbecue chips, pickle. So I guess I’d have to say that my poetry would be a tuna salad sandwich with a side of barbecue chips. And a pickle. Or to put it another way, my poetry is written with fingers covered in “barbecue pollen.”

Vouched: Why are BBQ chips so great? I mean – they’re REALLY great. Oh, and not to change the subject, but who’s your all-time favorite athlete ?

I don’t know, but as most athletes like to do at the start of post-game interviews, unlike almost all poets, I’d just like to thank God at this moment for BBQ chips, because clearly all the credit goes to him.

My all-time favorite athlete is a difficult question because there have been many favorites–and many of those have gone on to become enemies when they left one of my Cleveland teams through free agency. Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez were my favorite players on consecutive Cleveland Indians’ teams from 1994-96 (Belle) and 97-2000 (Ramirez), but I hated both of them after they left Cleveland for more $$$$. (Manny a little less so, because he was, after all, Manny.) LeBron James is an interesting case because he was by far my favorite Cleveland athlete while he was with the Cavs the first time around, then quickly become my most hated athlete of all time after The Decision, and now he’s quickly become one of my favorites again after The Letter and The Return. Perhaps if he leads us to a title this year he will be my favorite of all time. But I don’t know if my love for LeBron will ever be quite the same again after our initial breakup.

My favorite Indians’ player right now is Michael Brantley, simply because of how he plays the game: always calm, in control, clutch. Just seems effortless. And he’s got this swag to his step, real style to his movement. He’s also got the best game glare I’ve ever seen from an Indians’ player, even better than Belle’s famous snarl.

But my favorite Indians’ player of all time is Victor Martinez, who played catcher for us from 2002-09. I like Brantley because he reminds me so much of Victor: our best clutch hitter, our most consistent hitter, just a joy to watch play on a daily basis. Victor had this great way of clapping his hands together in an upward stroke (as if he were high-fiving himself) as he popped up from a slide into second base after an RBI double. And he loved the Indians, crying when they traded him to the Red Sox. I will never forgive the Indians for trading Victor to the Red Sox. We got Justin Masterson in return, who for a while was our ace and made that deal look respectable, even necessary; but now that Masterson has gone from being our ace to sucking so much that we had to trade him, the Victor deal looks even worse, especially because every time he’s faced us in a Tigers’ uniform the last few years he’s deposited a back-breaking three-run homer somewhere. I know my love for Victor is everlasting because I never hate him, even when he’s killing us with those three-run homers. I just get angry at the Indians’ front office.

My hope, now that LeBron has given Cleveland one miracle through his return, is that Victor will somehow sign a four-year deal with the Indians for like $20 (pretty much the max they can offer him) and take us to the World Series. Because I’m pretty sure if we can sign just one hitter like Victor this off-season we’ll go all the way next year with our badass starting front four of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. Our #5 starter, T. J. House, is no slouch either. I’ll just keep dreaming here while you ask me your next question.

Vouched: I mean, that is pretty much a dream team. If that miraculous turn of events were to happen, how much do you think you’d spend in tickets during the season? Be honest.

Well, seeing as how I don’t live in Cleveland anymore, probably not that much. But if the team looked World Series–bound, I’d go home to watch as many games as I could during the summer. And if the team were on the cusp of winning the World Series at home, I’d pay pretty much whatever price to be there. Like, up to $500 for a ticket, probably. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and when you’re talking about Cleveland, that “lifetime” is longer than most.

Vouched: What are you most excited about for the Letters Festival?

Meeting writers I haven’t met before and hearing them read, and reading with peeps from my own hood like the badass Morgan Parker. Always a pleasure to be invited to read in another city–especially when you get flown out and put up in a hotel room!

SSR: I Was A Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac

5 Nov

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I Was A Fat, Drunk, Catholic School Insomniac by Jamie Iredell
Future Tense Books
200 pg // $12

When we strip our adolescence of its hangovers, drunk stupors, the existential crises, angst, and adolescent missteps – what we’re left with is the sobering toxicity of youth.

 

Awful Interview: Kate Sweeney

4 Nov

Atlanta, that wonderful time of year is descending upon us again. No – not the holidays! (Though I’ve been jonesing for a turkey leg ever since exiting this year’s Ren Fest.) The Letters Festival! I mean, holy smokes, we’ve got three days of Independent Literature about to descend upon our fair city. I’m swooning. You swooning? You should be.

So we’ve got a bevy of fun stuff to help get you riled up. First up to bat? A second round of Awful Interview with Atlanta’s own Kate Sweeney, author of American Afterlifeand all-around gem. We’re not sure why she was up for letting us awfully interview her… again. But boy were we glad to do so! Kate will be helping kick-off the festivities this Thursday evening at BURNAWAY’s beautiful office space, alongside Aaron Burch, Esther Lee, and Jason McCall. You can snag your tickets for all that literary goodness here. In the meantime, let’s get to this interview, shall we?

Vouched: So, Kate – it’s been almost 9 months since the release of American Afterlife. How many bizarre, unsolicited stories about death have you heard whilst promoting the book? What was the weirdest?

Oh, my. I’ve heard so many GREAT stories from people about their experiences with funerals and ways they chose to remember their loved ones. One of my favorites is the family who filled their pant-legs with the ashes of their family patriarch,  and then took a casual group walk through the football field of his college alma mater, allowing the ashes to spill out onto the field as they did so, like in “The Great Escape.”

Vouched: Record scratch – wait, what? I mean, i figured you would have weird stories, but that’s pretty out there. Do you have really epic notions for your own funeral now? (I would worry that that’s a morbid question, but I mean, you wrote a book about death rituals, so it feels like fair game.)

Actually, I do have more notions regarding my own funeral than I did when I began all this. I’ve even sat down and made a plan–something I never would have done as a regular, unleaded 30-something who had never heard stories from so many people who’d experienced epic memorials, horrible memorials, as well as exhausting memorials due to a total lack of pre-planning. It’s actually a great gift to those you leave behind to let them know what on earth you want before the time comes–and, almost more importantly, where key documents are. Because you don’t want to leave your significant other/sons/daughters/parents the burden of dealing with all this crazy minutia on TOP of mourning, too. And the hard fact is this: There is a lot of minutia and rigamarole involved. And we don’t know when we’re going to go.  Sure, it feels weird to have these conversations and make these plans, and it feels doubly weird in a society in which even thinking about death is considered to be weird–but it makes a huge difference to everyone we love.

Vouched: Wow, you’ve become quite the advocate! Would you be willing to share a bit of your plan, or is it a surprise? I have a perpetually late friend who wants to have his coffin arrive at the funeral parlor 15 minutes late when he dies (honestly, it would be out-of-character if it didn’t) … is that something that can happen?

That IS something someone could make happen, for sure. I love it! Folks have told me stories about doing traditional funerals with the hearses and the cemeteries and vaults, about opting for direct cremation with no service, choosing green burial, about writing funny or even bitter obituaries for their loved ones, having their loved ones’ ashes made into plant mulch, LPs and artificial coral reefs. (Not to mention our forebears from the 1800s, who made jewelry out of human hair and invented memorial photography! Now they were a party people.) Seriously, though: For every one of these types of memorialization, someone had a story about how scarring and awful her experience was, and someone else had a story about how this was absolutely the right decision, and how it was healing or cathartic in some way.

So, you know, I went into this experience with some prejudices–the kind we all have–about what’s right and what’s weird when it comes to memorialization. But having heard these personal stories, those prejudices have been stripped away.  And not to paint myself as some Grand Authority to whom everyone’s paying attention in terms of her opinions on memorialization, but it’s because I’ve learned this that I’ve actually decided not to speak publicly about what I’ve chosen, personally. I just don’t want to come across as having any sort of bias, because what’s right for me may not be for you, and I get that.

Vouched: Totally fair. Okay, so – I have to ask – is Six Feet Under your all-time favorite television show by default now?

Had there been no Six Feet Under, there would have been no American Afterlife. That is the literal truth.

Vouched: WHOA! I’ve stumbled across interview gold! Would you elaborate on that, plz?

Sure! I was obsessed with that show. It was the first show I ever binge-watched and which moved me to have imaginary conversations with the characters while, say, walking my dog or driving to the store. So naturally, I read everything I could get my hands on about it. One story I came across was an article about a green burial cemetery in California, written by Tad Friend in the New Yorker. The cemetery had served as a setting for something that took place on the show, I believe. Almost as a footnote, the story mentioned that the nation’s very first green burial cemetery–which began the trend of ecologically-friendly burial spaces in the US–was in South Carolina. I was really intrigued, and it looked like no one had written a major feature article about the place, so that’s what I did. Oxford American published the story in its Spring 2008 issue, and things snowballed from there. Suddenly everywhere I looked, there were fascinating stories about how we Americans remember our dead, from third-generation funeral directors, to roadside memorials, to all the stuff we’re doing with ashes, to our Victorian forebears who made jewelry from human hair. I had to write about them.

Vouched: Six Feet Under really is one of those shows where you miss the main characters after it’s over. At least that’s how it was for me. Say, if you could pick one character from Six Feet Under to attend your reading at the Letters Festival, which would it be? And why? What would you say?

Oooh, good one. Well, clearly, it’s the father. It might be kind of unnerving, but I’d love to see his ghostly presence standing in the back, laughing and shaking his head at some of the  stories from the book. I think that in the end, I’d simply shake his hand–if you can do that. Can you shake a ghost’s hand?

Awful Interview: Blake Butler

25 Oct

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This is Blake Butler. He’s quite a guy! Most people know him for his writing (you know, Sky Saw, Nothing, Scorch Atlas, etc.), or his work up at Vice or HTMLGiant and whatnot. Which is pretty cool. But Blake is also just rad as hell as a person, which is why Atlanta is celebrating him and the release of his latest book, 300,000,000, tonight at the Highland Ballroom. Come and see?

Vouched: So, Blake. Your new book is called 300,000,000. Is that your favorite number? Why?

It’s the number of people in America, rounded down. So it’s my least favorite number. I think my favorite number is five. I’ve really claimed five as my favorite number before but for some reason it’s what came out when I typed my favorite without thinking, which is how I usually try to write everything. Wait, I hate five. I like zero, and I like eight.

Vouched: I’m worried that a lot of people are going to wrongly assume your least favorite number is your favorite number. Let’s clarify a couple other favorites, just so we can have all this stuff on the record. Color? Superhero? Gum?

Is it too whatever to say my favorite color is black? It’s black. But I hate the Cure, especially their music. When I was a kid my favorite superhero was Gambit, though I can’t remember why at all now. He actually looks kind of ridiculous and the guys they get to play him in the movies make him seem like a foof. I guess if I have a fav superhero still now it would be something like the planet in the original cartoon Transformers movie voiced by Orson Welles. It’s like huge and quiet and in the middle of nowhere and godlike without anything to god over. I like gum that tastes like fake fruit: cherries, apples, pears, the fruitiest fruits. I usually only like to chew gum for the 30 seconds it takes to make the flavor disappear.

Vouched: Rate these four gums: Super Bubble, Bazooka, Juicy Fruit, and a Nerds Gumball

How big is the Nerds gumball? Can you customize the ball? I like those gum things you can get that are so big they don’t fit in your mouth, but then you force it to fit anyway and then you have a new mouth size. Actually, the Nerds one struck me weird the way they cram all the Nerds in the center, which felt like chomping through a tiny melon to burst into a den of ants. No. Nerds Rope is tight, though. That’s not gum. Shit. I’mma go with Bazooka for its timelessness, and how it reminds me of the color of a brain. So, rank, okay: Bazooka, Juicy, Super, Nerds.

 

Vouched: Wow, you’ve kind of ruined Nerds gumballs for me with that imagery. Say, remember Warheads?

RIP Nerd Gumball. Say, for sure! I sold Warheads out of my backpack in seventh grade during a period when our class developed a minor economy based on who sold what candy for how much to whom. Like a little shit entrepreneur I bought a vat of Warheads from Sam’s Club with my mom  and sold them for a quarter each, mostly to this Mexican kid named Hugo who the only thing I ever remember him talking about was the show Martin. He would give me a dollar for the Warheads and go “You so crazy, Gina” and laugh to himself and walk away. On and on like that through the annals of time. I think I ended up eating most of the Warheads by myself instead of selling them, which is how I ended up here I guess. Did you eat Warheads? What color was your color?

 

Vouched: I liked the black cherry one I think. Oh, and blue raspberry. I mean damn, those things are good. Do they still make them? Also, when did you toss in your entrepreneurial hat for a writerly one? Or are they actually the same hat? Are you wearing two hats at once?

It’s a good question, because from the creative perspective, the kind of writing I spend most of my time on, it’s pretty much the inverse of entrepreneurial pursuit; I would be terrified to calculate the amount I’ve made per hour spread out over all the text I’ve banged out and how much I’ve been paid for it; but to be paid for that isn’t the point, and in another way it helps fuel the other half, which is writing for money, which I’ve basically been doing since I was seventeen; my first job besides mowing lawns and as a cashier at Media Play was writing reviews of independent albums for allmusic.com.

Once I realized I could use writing for the internet to make money and not have to get a real job that ate my time, which I could then use to force the majority of my time into the writing that I loved most and for a long time paid absolutely nothing, I made it my goal to do that as long and hard as I could. Somehow I’ve been able to cobble together enough work running my mouth on websites to make a decent living, and the time to salary rate is pretty great, since at this point I’m so used to busting out content that I end up with most of the day to my whole self. Which is the only way I want to live. And so yes, two hats at once, probably ten hats, or two dozen, though no fedoras please. My skull is too large for most real hats unfortunately.

 

Vouched: Really? What’s the circumference of your head? I have a good haberdashery – in case you want a hat.

I am afraid to measure it but I once received the gift of a one-size-fits-all hat that did not fit me.  I would like to be buried naked, holding only that hat. In the meantime, I will fashion trash bags into headbands and wear them in the sun.

 

Vouched: That sounds really rad. How would you describe your sense of fashion?

My sister says I dress like a bruise. My main rule is: try to dress like you don’t feel bloated. At home I wear what has been deemed “R. Kelly shorts.” If I had it my way I would always be wearing R. Kelly shorts. What is life.

 

Vouched: What do you think R. Kelly’s favorite number is? Do you think he’d like your book?

Some people would probably guess his favorite number is 69. I know it is actually 90210. I hope he would like my book, because he dies in it. For some reason I’m now imagining R. Kelly sitting on the shitter reading The Bible. I think it’s time I let myself get a tattoo.

Awful Interview: Todd Seabrook

19 Sep

Todd Seabrook This is Todd Seabrook. Todd’s real first name is William, but that’s no matter. He hails from Ohio, was educated in Colorado, and is working on scoring his Doctorate from FSU as. you. read. Along with getting a host of awesomeness published over the years, his chapbook, The Imagination of Lewis Carroll, was the winner of this year’s chapbook contest at Rose Metal Press. We’re celebrating its release here in Atlanta at a big ol’ party at the Highland Ballroom, hosted by 421 Atlanta (who published his collection The Passion of Joan of Arc earlier this year) and Rose Metal Press. To celebrate, Todd allowed me to awfully interview him.

So, Todd. (Or should I call you William? Mr. Seabrook? W.T.? – you tell me!) with release about Joan of Arc and Lewis Carroll now, I’m guessing you’re a bit of a historian. Is that true?

I have always gone by my middle name, a family tradition that was created, I assume, to make sure there is always a source of confusion in my life. So you may call me Todd, thereby fulfilling my parents’ penchant toward single-syllable middle names, chaos.

If I am a historian, I am a terrible one. It does not take an acute reader to know that Joan of Arc did not actually burn at the stake before standing witness in her own trial, or that Lewis Carroll did not kill the same person twice in two separate duels. But I still maintain these biographies are very accurate, except for all the things that didn’t actually happen, of course. I’m guessing such a statement does not qualify as good historical methodology, but these books are not interested in history so much as the individual characters. I am a fan of Joan of Arc and Lewis Carroll, and I write their life as a fan would. Their stories have been in our culture for centuries, and have somewhat fossilized over the ages, shorn and condensed into banal trivia questions. In order to show what they accomplished—Joan of Arc, a 19-year old girl, single-handedly saving France from becoming England II, and Lewis Carroll telling a story one afternoon on a whim that is still being told today—accuracy took a back seat to the dramatic, the colossal, the impossible. I am a fan, not a historian, and these books are my noblest attempts at true fan fiction.

Historical fan fiction – I like it! What other historical figures are you a fan of? I’m a total fangirl for Teddy Roosevelt, personally.

I have written two other magical realist biographical chapbooks—if that’s what these can be called—one on J. Robert Oppenheimer and one on Steve Prefontaine. I would also add Robin Hood into my list of favorite historical figures even though he never actually existed. But obviously such quibbling details concern me not. It is an incongruous melee of people, who share very little with each other (different eras, countries, ages, talents), but they all stand out to me as people who were exceptional at what they did, and that is why I am drawn to them.

Great choices! Wouldn’t it be funny if they all did have something in common that we just couldn’t possibly be aware of this day and age? For instance, maybe they all had a peanut allergy. Or maybe none of them were very apt at climbing trees.

What if I am their only connection, and they all existed solely so that I could write about them in a series of limited-run chapbooks. What grand design!

Wow! That’s so Being John Malkovich. Remember that movie?

I do, one of Kaufman’s best.

I couldn’t agree more. Did it make you want to take up puppetry, a little? Do you think you’d be good at that? Do you have any other comparable secret hobbies the world should know about?

In a related field to puppetry, I am a juggler, and own a  set of juggling balls and pins. I am also a marathon runner, which is why I have a preoccupation with Steve Prefontaine. Aside from running and juggling, my friends know me as a lover of cats,  a fan of science-fiction and  ICP, and a collector of beer caps, which, as I see them all together, seems like another odd assortment.

 That is quite a menagerie of talents. Will you be juggling at this Saturday’s reading? No pressure! But other than your juggling act and reading – what are you looking forward to most about this weekend’s festivities?
I will be dressed as the Mad Hatter for the reading, and I may bring my juggling balls, or maybe even my pins, just to delight the crowd. I can’t wait to see who else will be dressed up for the event, and I am looking forward to reading with Laird Hunt (making a reading-Laird-Hunt sandwich). All in all, I can’t imagine a launch party that could be any more fun than this.

Awful Interview: 826 Valencia’s Pasha Parovoz

21 Aug

pasha-introspectiveTo the left you see a picture of the world-renowned actor, philanthropist, and pufferfish: Pasha Parovoz. He’s been in the city he calls home, the ever-creative and weird hub of culture that is San Francisco, since February of this year. Fresh off his return from shooting Moby Dick 3: The Reckoning in Brazil, he’s been working to lose the weight he’s put on in the wake of the film’s moderate success in anticipation of his next role (whatever that may be). I traveled to the Mission District and sat down outside of Pasha’s humble tank in the fish theater at 826 Valencia-—the non-profit where he devotes all of his time to entertaining children and adults–to talk to him about his work, his life, and his passions.

Mr. Parovoz, Pasha, thank you for meeting with me. My first question is regarding your influences: who made you want to act? Who gave you your first taste of the stage?

Oh, you know it was the fish I associated with, really. It also helped that that one of those fish was Balthazar, Eddie Cantor’s striped bass, who, as you know, essentially brought maritime vaudeville to the mainstream (pun intended).

You worked with Balthazar the Bass? He’s a legend, but no one’s seen him in decades.

Oh yes, well he was already quite isolated when we met, but as he’s gotten older he’s become very coy.

How do you keep all the shows in the fish theater fresh everyday?

Well I work off the crowd, Del Close is a huge influence. I like to break down the fourth wall with the audience and put my face against the glass and just swim back and forth. It really moves them when I move. Some of the standards are the works of Tennessee Williams, the crowds love when I puff up at the famous “STELLA” line. Other than that I do Shakespearean classics. But it’s my monologues that really draw the people in, my words are so powerful that the other fish actually have to hide.

Your most recent work was shot in Brazil, that must have been thrilling.

Oh you can’t imagine. I always get self-conscious filming, though, because, as you know, the camera adds ten pounds, which for a pufferfish is a lot. It wasn’t easy with all that good food around. The krill off the coast of Brazil has an addictive flavor. But we had a great time, Moby Dick 3: The Reckoning has been doing pretty well in small midnight showings in cult theaters across the country.

Tell me about the place that you call home, 826 Valencia.

826 is a non-profit dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. I live in the Pirate Supply Store in front of the writing center.

I understand you have a plug.

I’m plugging Birthdays.

Birthdays?

My Birthday, and more importantly your Birthday! This Saturday, August 23, we will be celebrating Vouched San Francisco’s Birthday at Milk Bar in the Haight district of San Francisco! It starts at 6PM. The proceeds from the event will benefit 826 Valencia!

Well I think we’re about out of time, you have a performance coming up right?

Yes, that’s right, thank you for your time and for interviewing me. Will you stay for the show? We will be performing a stage-adaptation of “Bonnie and Clyde”

Sounds amazing.

Awful Interview: Christy Crutchfield

4 Aug

Christy Crutchfield

To your left you see Christy Crutchfield. She’s fucking fierce. Christy penned a book. That book is titled How to Catch a Coyote. The book, like Christy, is fucking fierce. The fierce book may be purchased from its publisher, Publishing Genius, but only if you do so ferociously. You can do that here.

Christy is embarking on a book tour (possibly with a pack of coyotes? No promises.) …right now. You can follow that here. We caught up with her before she hit the dusty dusty and asked her a few questions about coyotes, Cocoa Puffs, and life in general. She had a lot of wise things to say.

So Christy, let’s get straight to the good stuff. When did you realize that you had such a gift for catching coyotes?

When I almost hit one with my car.  If I hadn’t hit the brakes, I’d have more than caught one.

Oh my God, just typing that made my heart hurt.  I could never actually do that.  I did a lot of research about hunting and coyotes while I was writing the book, and it made me realize two things:  1) I Iove coyotes, and  2) I could never be hunter.  I barely eat meat as it is, and I’m pretty sure the closest to hunting I’ll ever get is fishing.

Don’t worry, I totally understand. How does one fish? I’ve never actually been.

I haven’t been fishing since I was a kid, and I’ve never caught much.  You need bait (crawlers for fresh water, shrimp for salt water), good rods and bobbers, and a lot of patience.

Here’s how coyotes catch fish:

Wowee! That’s incredible! Way to go coyote! Speaking of which,  I feel like I must confess something. Christy, I was a little sad when I discovered your book wasn’t actually a Count of Monte Cristo-esque revenge story told from the perspective of the Road Runner on Looney Tunes. (Are you mad at me?)

Yes and no.  Yes, because I always kind of hated the Road Runner (and Tweety Bird if we’re keeping score).  I know Wile E. is the one starting shit, but the Road Runner is always so smug about winning.  No, because not matter what I think of the Road Runner, I would totally read his revenge story.  I would really like to know what’s in the Road Runner’s head because he doesn’t say much.

 Shew. And yeah – what is with those Looney Tunes birds always being so snarky anyway? What’s with birds in general?

Oh come on.  Birds are great!  Songbirds, hawks, peregrine falcons.  There are lots of blue herons in Western Mass, and there’s something majestic about them when they fly.  Parrots creep me out though.  Maybe it’s a talking/cartoon bird thing.  The Cocoa Puff’s Cuckoo–the worst!

But Cocoa Puffs are so good! The milk! It’s the best, don’t you think?

I feel pretty meh about Cocoa Puffs.  And I love cereal.  I love cereal so much I had to stop buying it.  But yeah, not huge on the “chocalatey” kinds.  I hold out for Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Bunches of Oats, and Peanut Butter Crunch.  I’ll give you the milk part though. (Are you mad at me?)

How could I be mad at you? You’re so endearing! And also, now that I know you’re not a fan of Cocoa Puff Milk and cereal milk in general – we make a dynamite duo. Plus, aren’t we about the same height and disposition? I feel like people may find that endearing.

I clock in at just (or just barely?) 5’2”.  I also remember you being a wee person.  How tall are you?   Does that mean we can share clothes?  According to facebook, you have really cute clothes.

Your disposition may be a little sunnier than mine, but that works well for a duo.  What would our duo name be?  Whoops, I think I just started asking the questions.

 Holy shit, I’m taller than you by one inch – that’s such a rarity! And yeah we can totally share clothes! Want to brainstorm some duo names? We go together like bourbon and lemonade. (Those go really well together.)

Those do go really well together.  Could we be The Boozy Lemonades?  What else goes well together? Chocolate and Peanut Butter?  Egg and Cheese (can I be Egg?)

The Endearing Duo?  The Dynamic Shorties?  I’m struggling here.

 We can keep brainstorming. (Maybe we can get a whole gang going!) But yeah, you can totally be egg, if we go that route. What are your feelings on breakfast, anyway? Do coyotes eat breakfast?

I love breakfast so much!  I will eat breakfast any meal of the day.  If I’m home for lunch, I almost always make a veggie scramble.  Coyotes will eat just about anything.  Animals,vegetables, fish, trash, pizza.  So I assume breakfast foods are on the list.  Breakfast hours, not sure.

Well, you’re a living testament to the fact that breakfast cannot be inhibited by menial things like time, right? Say, what are you most excited about your book tour? And more specifically, the release party in Atlanta on August 9?

I have been looking forward to this book tour all summer (it’s been getting me through teaching at summer camp this July), especially the release party in Atlanta.  I think I’m most excited to see friends, family, and all the amazing people in the lit community along the way.  I’m reading at some awesome series in the coming months (Federal Dust, Three Tents, Tirefire, Sunday Salon) and at some amazing venues (The Goat Farm, Lorem Ipsum, the Regulator Bookshop).  It’s a little scary to have a first book out, but people have been so supportive helping put this tour together (thanks to you too!).  It makes my heart so full.  Also, Atlanta’s my hometown, and Publishing Genius is now based there, which makes the release party even better.

Awful Interview: Scott Daughtridge

22 May

scott

To the left is an image of  Scott Daughtridge right after he returned to the modern era after living in Pleasantville for five years. Clearly he took the “color” thing a little too far after living in black and white for so long. What you can’t see is that his face is actually still in monochrome – well played, Scott. It’s kind of creepy, the way the whole world is in color except for his face. Scott can often be found with his face buried in a book for this reason. It is rumored that he is the actual Phantom of the Opera. He is somewhere between the age of 19 and 87 (no one’s really sure). He’ll be reading at the next Vouched Presents.

So, Scott, your forthcoming chapbook is called I Hope Something Good Happens. What do you mean by “good” per sé? Like, are we talking a really good sandwich or are we talking Team U.S.A. defeating Team Iceland a la Mighty Ducks 2? Or something else entirely?

Well I had money on the Icelanders, so the Ducks winning that tournament cost me a stack. I should have known better. I’m talking about something slightly different. Like a dog is lost in the woods and is exhausted, starving and dehydrated, then stumbles on a creek where it brings itself back to health and later becomes king of the forest.

Oh. Wow. Did you ever really play hockey? Also, I like that story about the dog. Which sentimental dog book are you a bigger fan of: Where the Red Fern Grows or White Fang?

The closest I ever came to playing hockey was skating around in circles at the Ice Forum, which was just a cold version of a roller skating rink. Why do people love skating around in circles while listening to pop music? Why has that need developed in our genetic makeup? I actually met Jack London’s ghost one time when I hopped a train from Atlanta to Athens and he told me how happy he was that Outkast named one of their songs Call of Da Wild. I agreed and we split a pint of Old Forester.

 The only thing I am worse at than skating (in any form) is golfing. So I’m not sure how to answer your question. Was it messy sharing a pint of Old Forester with a ghost? Did he get off at Athens then or keep going?

You seem like you’d be good at skating, with your low center of gravity and all. I’m bad at golf too, both standard and frisbee, but appreciate the skillful landscaping involved. Being around people who are good at golf, or even play it a lot,  makes me want to throw a bowl of salsa across the room, which has happened before, but these days it’s a little easier to restrain myself, so I just interrupt them whenever they start talking.

There was no mess, but he smelled strongly of salt water. I dozed off before we arrived and was alone when I woke up. I still have the pint bottle.

By “low center of gravity” you mean “short,” right? Thanks a lot, Scott. When was the last time you threw a bowl of salsa across the room? Was anyone injured?

It’s been a while, but I’ve thrown a lot of different things across a lot of different rooms. I try to choose things that won’t result in injury. Paper or plastic containers are preferred. That’s how you can test if you’re at a good party or not. If you can throw something (a bowl of salsa, a cup of beer, a pie) across the room and either 1) the person it hits turns but can’t tell who threw it because it’s too crazy or 2) the person it hits doesn’t even give a damn because everything is bonkers, then you’re at a good party. I never have thrown a pie, though. It’s one of my true regrets in life.

Oksana Baiul is 5’ 3”, Michelle Kwan is 5’ 2”, Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi and Tonya Harding are all 5’ 1”. I’m pretty sure you’re in that range, and therefore in the height company of female figure skating royalty. That’s awesome!

Okay, you’re forgiven! I love Michelle Kwan. I’ve always wanted to throw water in someone’s face after they insult me. Hey – I’ve got an idea! Want to make a pledge that next time we’re at a party you can throw pie in my face and I’ll throw water in yours?

Deal. I’ll start carrying a throwin’ pie with me at all times until this exchange goes down.

Great. Maybe we should both invest in a good pair of spurs, too? You know, so we can handle this Western stand-off style? Thoughts?

I was imagining more sneak attack, ambush style. I’ll just casually stroll through a crowded room with a pie, walk up from behind you, then WHAM! Everyone will be horrified but you and I can laugh hysterically. Then, in an act of vengeance, you can throw water in my face. Maybe you should make it a bucket of water with a blue little paint mixed in.

Oooh – I like the way you think. I can’t wait! Say – what are you most pumped about for this reading? Free beers? An audience who may or may not heckle you?

I’m going to be reading stories from Strange Temple, a collection in progress. One piece from it was featured in the most recent issue of Midwestern Gothic, but the others haven’t seen the light of day yet, so I’m excited to get those out there.  Free beer is cool too.

Awful Interview: Aric Davis

9 Apr

aricdavis

To the left you will find a photograph of Aric Davis holding a keyboard. (Could we call that keyboard vintage? In a cool way – I think so.) Aric Davis is kind of a badass. Not only is he the author of seven books, but for sixteen years he was a body piercer and he’s a happily married dude and he’s a dad. Badass right? Right.

Aric is coming down all the way from Grand Rapids to help celebrate the third anniversary of The Five-Hundred by reading to us. That’ll be happening tomorrow, April 10th – more details about that here.

In February I awfully interviewed Aric in anticipation of the forthcoming reading. Here’s what happened.

So Aric, how is Grand Rapids these days?

Cold, snowy, and bleh! I love GR, and Michigan in general, but we have been absolutely smoked by snowfall so far this year. I’m used to a busy January and February when it comes to snow maintenance, but the snow started falling in November and has shown little sign of letting up. Hopefully we get a break soon.

You’re a punk-rock aficionado, correct? I’ve come to notice that some of my favorite punk tunes come from chillier climates. Would you say that, from your own experience and expertise – there’s a correlation between those two things? Also, how does one become a punk rock aficionado?

Tough call! There’s a lot of really good punk music coming out these days, and strangely, a lot of it is coming out of the northern United States. Captain We’re Sinking, Restorations, Save Ends,  Direct Hit!, Iron Chic, and RVIVR all put out amazing records in 2013, and they’re all from places where it tends to be a little colder. That said, with great bands like Red City Radio or Against Me! putting out new work recently/very soon, the south isn’t exactly in trouble. That said, I would be hard pressed to say that the north is tops for me, Hot Water Music and Avail are two all time faves of mine, and they’re both from the south.

As for the last part, I have no clue. I just like punk music a ton, and my formative years were heavily influenced by poorly recorded music made by people who give a crap.

That sounds like a really authentic punk way to become a punk aficionado. You used to pierce for a living too, correct? How has that influenced your words?

I worked as a body piercer for seventeen years, and it was and is a huge influence on my written work, even after a year of writing full time. Back when I was still in the tattoo parlor, I wrote on the same bed that I performed piercings on, taking a break as necessary to perform stabbings. It made for an odd juxtaposition, the work that I had to do to make money, and the work that I wanted to do but kept being chased from. I know there are a lot of authors with stories of incredible hardship, but I like to think that having to take breaks from writing to punch holes in genitals still sticks out as a unique situation. I don’t have any exact correlations between body piercing and scribbling, but I do know that spilling blood on a page is a piece of cake compared to doing it with a blade.

Do you feel that can cause you to be hard-as-nails in your own writing? Also – what was it like for complete strangers to trust you with stabbing their genitalia?

I certainly don’t think it hurts! The most useful my piercing career ever proved when it came to writing was when I was working on my gothic-romance-tattoo-ghost-story, A Good and Useful Hurt. With Hurt, I drew upon everything that I had learned in my years behind a needle. For the rest of my work, the tattoo shop proved to be a way to meet very-ahem-unique people, and to draw upon my experiences in working with them. Being in the shop definitely exposed me to a side of life that most people don’t see growing up, and that was definitely a good thing as far as my writing is concerned.

The trust strangers show body art practitioners is insane, in my opinion, and even the best practitioners are still human. That said, I developed a very good reputation for being the go-to guy for body mods in the Grand Rapids area, and I still can’t believe some of the things strangers entrusted me with. That said, everyone lived, so maybe they weren’t that off-base.

 So you consider yourself a pretty trustworthy guy?

As trustworthy as the next heavily tattooed former body piercer that makes up stories for a living.

I’ll mark that down as a “Maybe.” Say, who do you think would win in a bar brawl: Will Smith circa The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Vanilla Ice?

Well, the fact of the matter is that Vanilla Ice got absolutely rolled by the world. Suge Knight’s boys hung him over  a balcony, Queen shook him down for stealing the opening notes of, “Under Pressure” and things only got worse from there. V-Ice is the polar opposite of street cred. Not only was he about as manufactured as major label acts get, he spent so many years trying to reinvent himself that he went from singing a song about, “Rolling up the hoootie-mac” to now remodeling houses on high number cable channels. Mr. Van Winkle is a straight up buster, which would lead one to believe that pre-awful movie Will Smith should decimate him, except…

Will Smith had to leave Philly because he got in a single fight. If the rest of the world had this attitude, school bullying would be a felony. Not only did Will get in one little fight that scared his mom, his milquetoast rap game inspired N.W.A. to exist in the first place. Seriously.

Yup, Will Smith’s rap career was so busted, so unrealistic, that Eazy E and the boys from N.W.A. were inspired by him to invent gangster rap, because they couldn’t believe how fake Smith’s version of the world was when compared to the life of the average African American teenager. Will was worried about parents leaving town and getting caught driving their Porsches, Eazy, Ren, Cube and Dre were worried about being able to eat and not get shot. It pains me to say it, but Vanila Ice wins hands down, and the more Will Smith tries to push his stupid wiener kids on us, the bigger the divide gets.

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