April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
Hey all, I’m taking part in a cool project that Chase Foreman, a long-time friend and the officiant at my wedding, is running. The idea behind Grimy God is to try to find the divine in disgusting images (which should be possible, if He is really everywhere). So far it has been a really interesting exercise to watch, forcing people out of their comfort zones to make fresh connections, so I’m excited to take part and accept this challenge! Not the normal stuff of this blog, I know, but there’s got to be something funny about finding God in the litter box, right? My response should be up sometime tomorrow, so check back soon!
October 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
Hey all. Sorry it has been several weeks, but I’ve had a my fingers in a lot of cakes recently.
Our submission period is open through the end of October, so I want to encourage you all to send your best work. We publish quality poetry, ficition, CNF, and everything in between, so we’re interested in whatever you’re doing. Click here for complete guidelines.
I was recently interviewed by the charming Bonnie ZoBell at www.everydayfiction.com for their Flash Fiction Chronicles Series on the underexplored world of fiction chapbooks. You can check out the interview here to get a better sense of what a chapbook is and what we’re looking for. As I say in the interview, fiction is severely underrepresented, so I especially want to make sure all you short story writers out there consider how great it would be to have a chapbook of your best work to sell at readings, give to friends and family, or leave laying around the coffee table the next time you’re having someone over who you’re trying to impress.
August 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
I really wish I could say I’m happy to be back here on the world wide web but my recent vacation was just too beautiful. I spent a glorious week in a cabin on an island in Northeastern Ontario. The weather was a little cooler than a normal August, perfect for shorts and dock shoes during the day and sleeping bags at night, and the only time it rained was the day the roofers were due to make some repairs, so the grey skies were actually a lucky guarantor of peace and quiet for reading. And that’s really all I did for the whole week: laze about in a hammock and read. On one of the last days, I tried fishing for a few minutes, but quickly found myself back to a book.
You know you’re relaxing when fishing seems like too much excitement.
In addition to Rob Bell’s thoughtful Love Wins, I read the following novels: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Red Moon by Ben Percy, Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins, Broken Harbor by Tana French, and A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch, but it is A Hologram for the King that I want to blog about today, because its literary use of jokes it pertinent to the mission of this blog.
The novel follows Alan Clay, a salesman from a fast-fading era of American greatness, as he tries to redeem his recent (and continuing) blunders by giving a successful sales pitch to a Saudi Arabian monarch. Concerned with failure and decline—both personal and cultural—this spare novel is sad and beautiful in an elegiac way.
It is, thankfully, also very funny. Many of the laughs come at Alan’s expense as he rushes from one awkard mess to the next (imagine Michael Scott fancying himself Lawrence of Arabia). But, lost in a foreign land, Alan recognizes that humor is a great bridge between cultures (as we’ve discussed on the blog before). After an awkward silence between he and his local driver, Alan tries to break the ice:
-Okay, Alan said. A woman’s husband has been sick. He’s been slipping in and out of a coma for several months, but she’s been staying by his bedside every single day. When he wakes up, he motions for her to come nearer. She comes over, sits next to him. His voice is weak. He holds her hand. ‘You know what?’ he says. ‘You’ve been with me all through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business went sour, you were there. When we lost the house, you gave me support. When my health started failing, you were still by my side… You know what?’ ‘What dear?’ she asks gently. ‘I think you bring me bad luck!’
Yousef snorted, coughed, had to stub out his cigarette.
-That’s good. I didn’t see that coming. You have more?
Alan was so grateful. He had not told a joke to an appreciative young person in many years.
This joke, obviously doing some thematic work as well, is surrounded by Alan’s recent memories of being shamed by his ex-wife and daughter for telling jokes. These failures are indicative of his crumbling connection to American life, just as his success in the car is a convincing sign of his budding friendship with Yousef. This relationship was one of the least depressing aspects of the book, as well as one of the realest feeling, in part because of the good (and good-bad) jokes Eggers uses in building it. There’s a decent chunk of the book dedicated to lamenting the fact that nothing real is built in America anymore, and in Alan’s world of telecom holograms and skyscrapers that will never be finished, an unlikely friendship is one of the most concrete commitments to be found.
With this in mind, I’m afraid to say that this post might have to serve as a sort of elegy for business as usual at The Oldest Jokes in the World: in contrast to the declining might of American manufacture, I’m going to start focusing on producing my own work for a while instead of commenting, theorizing on, and repackaging the rest of the world’s. My serial novel, Slash, is launching in September, so my only posts here for the next month or two will probably be to promote my efforts. I will have plenty of content related to Slash that is both literary and funny, though, so check out the website and the fb group to get your fix. Otherwise, I promise to be back soon with an essay about the history of the “deeez nuts” joke or the importance of flatulence gags.
March 12, 2013 § 2 Comments
I just got back from Boston last night, feeling flush with a sense of literary community and possibility, and what’s the first thing I see online this morning? The full line-up for the Cracked Walnut Reading Festival!
As you’ll see on the poster below, I’m reading at the Angry Catifish Coffee/Bike Shop in on Tuesday the 19th of March, but I want to encourage you to check out as many of the festival dates as possible. They are a great chance to bring all the great parts of the Twin Cities literary community even closer together, forcing curmudgeonly fiction writers such as myself to share the stage with outgoing essayists, erudite poets, and spoken-word slammers. It’s all being organized by the incomparable Satish Jayaraj, who’s taking time off of promoting his awesome first novel to give this incredible gift to all lit-lovers in Minnesota.
If you aren’t from Minnesota, I hope this post entices you to come visit; there’s really no better time (messy spring weather aside) than March 18th-April 12th to get a feel for all we have to offer. And if you are from Minnesota, I’m looking forward to seeing lots of old friends and making new ones over the next month, so please do say hi.
And I’ve just got to say, I’m overjazzed to have my name on the same poster as Charles Baxter.
You can see the full schedule, with directions to each event at the Cracked Walnut Website.
March 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
This week, The Oldest Jokes in the World is coming to you live from Boston, where I’m attending the AWP Bookfair and conference.
As promised, I’m not just here glad-handing publishers, soliciting chapbook submissions, and getting craft notes—I’m also searching for the greatest literary anecdotes and one-liners for a special AWP JOKEALONG next week. So far, though, the biggest joke has been me thinking I’d get much blogging done while here—one day in and I’m already feeling burnt-out and overwhelmed. Plus, it is tough blogging on and iPhone with these fat fingers of mine (I’ve already accidentally published this post half-finished twice now). So I’ll leave you with a few photos of my fiance and I enjoying the festival and see you next week.
March 1, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m very excited to be heading to the A.W.P. Conference and Bookfair in Boston next week. For those that don’t know, AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is an awesome organization that does all sorts of great things for writer/educators. They publish a magazine, run an awards series, and provide many other means for writers to connect—but their biggest event every year is the annual Conference and Bookfair.
The conference features keynote addresses and readings by famous authors every night, as well as an exhausting schedule of interactive panel discussions every day. Even better, in my opinion, is the bookfair: conference hall after conference hall filled with presses, each with their own table covered in hardcovers, trades, chapbooks, and swag. Too big to be called a dream, it is more of a bibliophile’s inescapable visionary coma.
I have attended each of the last three years, and it keeps getting bigger and crazier, so I’m looking forward to what it will look like in Boston. My main goal this year is to research self-publishing and self-promotion options for the serial novel I’m going to start publishing this September, but I always end up learning something by surprise when I am there as well.
For example, at the conference in Chicago last year, I attended a panel on jokes featuring Stephen Goodwin, Richard Bausch, Robert Bausch, Jill McCorkle, and Alan Shapiro, and their hilarious discussion of humor in literature (which quickly turned into a joke-off) inspired me to start this blog.
As a result, I’m going to dedicate the next few weeks of blogging to an AWP jokealong. While at the conference, I’ll be on the hunt for the best obscure literary puns and writerly anecdotes, and I’ll update you on my progress on Friday. Then on the Friday after, once I’m home, I’ll compile my findings in an official jokealong post.
That said, if you’re going to be in Boston, too, we should meet up and trade a joke or two. I’d love to meet some of you blogging-buddies in real-life, so drop a comment if you’re going to be there!
And since I don’t want to leave you without a Friday laugh, here’s one of the funnier anecdotes I heard at last year’s conference, told by Richard Bausch:
The novelist Jon Hassler was working on a book in a cabin up in the woods somewhere north of Duluth, Minnesota, and something very bad happened to the sump pump. There was a kind of methane explosion after the toilet backed up awfully and so he had to call a plumber. The plumber was wiping raw sewage off the walls and standing in it up to his ankles. “People told me you were up here working on a book or something? I mean you’re that writer guy from Minneapolis, right?”
“Yes,” Hassler said.
The plumber shook his head almost wistfully, with a kind of pity. “Don’t know how you can do that kind of work.”