February 15, 2016 § Leave a comment
I used to hate salespeople. You go into the cell-phone store for a new phone, and someone swoops in to try and convince you to get the same phone he has, a more expensive one than you had in mind. The store could have made money off the phone you wanted, but since they have this glorified con-man on their pay-roll, he has to find a way to justify his wage by pressuring you into something you don’t want.
As a grocery buyer, I had to deal with them all the time, dropping into the store just when I was least expecting it, to see if I was interested in carrying their new line of sprouted nuts or artisinal jams, talking too quickly to give me a chance to cut them off with a, “no thanks, not interested.” They’d fill my mouth with samples and tell me to think about it, they’d be emailing soon. I always felt like chasing them out of the store–“Really just no! Not maybe! No need to send your pricing structure. We are not interested, never will be.”–but politeness always stopped me. Then the call came a week later, “Remember me? I fed you ginger peach jam from my jar with a tiny spoon: now you owe me! How many cases can I put you down for?” Even after that no, they had to find a way to keep it open ended and check back to see if anything changes in a few months.
After one guy’s fourth call-back, it hit me: these weren’t the slick talking, smooth operators I was hating them for being; they were desperate losers–they reminded me of myself in high-school and college, trying to ask out girls, pitching my pathetic, inexperienced self in way that avoided the chance of ultimate rejection to keep hope, however slim alive. In addition to making me finally realize why I was always left feeling led-on when girls were as clear with me as I could be, I came to recognize that at the heart of every salesman, there is a sad, scared, and lonely man.
Patrick Robertson is probably the purest example of that sad, scared, lonely bastard since Willy Loman. The title character of Brian Hennigan’s slim novel, Patrick is a divorced and friendless alcoholic stumbling from Asian hotel to machine parts sales meeting without ever making a real connection with anyone.
Don’t let that description and the Willy Loman comparison fool you, though: Patrick Robertson: A Tale of Adventure is not some somber elegy but a raucous farce full of more ups and downs than a regional sales graph. Though a barechested special-ops comando may be the more obvious choice to take on the terrorists, jungle elements, and mistaken identity that pop up in this book, as a salesman, Patrick is a perfect protagonist for an adventure: used to pushing forward towards a deal against all odds, as he falls deeper into trouble, he never gives up, always persevering even in the face of certain death; and as an alcoholic, he is ready to make the sort of brash, split second decisions needed in high-pressure situations. As he explains, “Alcohol is not the answer to all our problems. But if one removes from one’s life those problems that cannot be solved with alcohol, the path is clear.”
Patrick makes a perfect narrator, too, as he’s always dispensing terrible wisdom like the above lines. Interspersed with the action, advice like, “There is a time and a place for the truth, and the conclusion of a sales pitch is not it”, is funny, in part, because readers are left wondering why Patrick would think any of us would want to follow the steps to ending up as sad and lonely as him. Only a narcissist as cut off from others as himself could think that he’s in an admirable position–especially as things keep going from bad to worse for him. And that’s the other reason they are funny: Patrick’s grand schemes for survival keep taking him further and further from life, until he is finally floating on the ocean in hot-air balloon basket, being roasted to death by the sun.
And that’s why I wholeheartedly recommend this book: it fits in with our program here at The Oldest Jokes in the World, with the humor working as another literary device to reinforce and deepen the subtext. If the life of a salesman is a large and already bullet riddled target for a satire, this book gets by for being a quick, energetic read, full of other surprises, the somehow warm without being schmaltzy ending chief among them. Previously published by Cape in the UK, it is now available for the first time in America. You can get it at Amazon or head on over to ataleofadventure.com for more info… and wisdom.
Full disclosure: a friend sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
February 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
Book Fight, one of my favorite literary podcasts, is having a listener drive right now, so I thought I’d write up a quick note about how great a program it is. Their tagline is “Tough love for literature”, but there’s really nothing difficult about the show, a smart yet accessible weekly discussion of literature. The tagline here at TOJitW, “About what other subjects can one make jokes except serious subjects?”, could fit for Book Fight as well, as they have that great mix of irreverence and reverence, where every topic discussed is subject to both intelligent discussion and (sometimes infantile) humor.
Tom and Mike, the hosts, are both writer/academics, but the tone is less classroom lecture than professors letting loose at the bar after work. Every week, they discuss one book, essay, or story, and then veer wildly off course, touching on anything from the politics of the literary journal scene to notable raccoon sightings. If you enjoyed my metafictional erotic thriller / comedic murder mystery / romantic slasher about fan fiction, Slash, you’ll love Tom’s periodic fan fiction readings on the show–but truly anyone who is serious enough about literature to see the value in taking the piss out of it every once in a while should head on over to bookfightpod.com, because they’ll love the show.
February 3, 2016 § 1 Comment
Having recently started editing the chapbooks I’m working on for 2016’s production schedule, I’ve been reflecting on the chapbooks Red Bird put out during 2015. They are definitely the best we’ve put out yet, and as such, I’m a little ashamed I didn’t do more to promote them. No doubt, it was a busy year for me and my family, but I am hoping to make up for it now by highlighting the books I helped put together now. I recently wrote up a piece about Christina Olsen’s Law & Order obsessed The Rook and the M.E. as part of the fan-fic recommendation section over at slashserial.com, and but here I want to highlight Luke Finsaas’ In the Company of Animals.
This was the first book I selected for the 2015 season, and I knew I wanted to publish it as soon as I read it. That said, it took me a while to say yes because I wasn’t sure if I had the guts to work on it. The first story in the collection, “Gospel Boys” is a dark and brutal tale of the Wild (Mid)West, full of inventive language and gruesome scenes; like the stories of Cormac McCarthy that it reminded me of, I found myself both admiring and fearing it. Though similarly unflinching, the second story, “Char-Char’s Dark Days Without Her Brother”, set in present day, felt more comfortable, its perversities somewhat less horrendous and a little more familiar: instead of drunken murder-binges, it features drug-fueled furry porn shoots. In the end, I was amazed that two shorts stories with such intense and different voices could be by the same author: Luke Finsaas is a talent who deserves to be read. As a result, I decided to take the plunge and couldn’t be happier that I did.
I really feel Luke Finsaas’ work here is some of the best prose we have ever published at Red Bird and, further, the stories make a perfect chapbook, really speaking to each other, their similarities made that much eerier by the stark and virtuosic difference in their tones. So check out the excerpt below, then click on the cover to head on over to Red Bird’s website to get your gorgeous, hand-bound copy today.
From “Gospel Boys”
My brother Matthew drove his shoulder through the front door and the rest of us Gospel Boys plowed in to find the whole damn family kneeling down in a circle on the living room floor, some sorta singing and wailing thing transpiring, grey baby laid out on a bed of straw in the center of it all, and Matthew fired his shotgun into the ceiling and told them to all keep on the floor, and their women commenced to bowing down to us, holding white napkins fixed upon their scalps, rectifying their askew black robes, salt tears streaming through the soot and dirt been caked onto their faces. They’d managed a look up at us scared as a cow seeing a bull whose heart was full of lustful intentions. Sulfur lamps dangled down in the room. That baby’s eyes were shut up like a pair of tiny onionskin papers. Their Pa raised himself up, full of purpose and my brother Johnny shotgunned him back down to those dusty floorboards, his legs kicking out in spasms and him clutching his chest spurting up blood and he was hissing…
January 26, 2016 § 2 Comments
I’m on a bit of a writing retreat this week: three nights at a suite in Grand Marais, MN, looking out over Lake Superior. Since Cedar’s birth, I’ve got a bit of writing done, but only by becoming that creature I’ve always pitied: the working parent who writes by getting up at some awfully early time to seize a few hours before the responsibilities of the day wake up screaming for attention. I’ve had a bit of luck at it, especially working on a few short projects during the last few months. But now that I am trying to start a new novel-length project, I am finding I’m having trouble really sinking in to the world of the book and getting a vision for it as a whole. As a result, I’m hoping to get a decent sense of the arc while up here, and get some good writing down for the first section as well.
One day in, I’ve already had to scale back my expectations. I’d hoped to finish a good draft of the first chapter but am realizing now I should be happy with a good draft of the first scene. That said, part of the reason the actual writing is going slower than at home is that the novel as a complete book is looking a whole lot realer to me, and I am filling out loose outlines, detailed character sketches, and loading up a trio of notebooks with research. As you can see from the photos, I have a lot going on and not too many distractions. At the very least, I should leave with a good plan for the coming months and a bit of momentum to start filling it in.
On a fun note, I am staying at the same hotel my wife and I stayed at for a romantic winter getaway last year. At the time, I was just starting the fantasy reading kick I have been on lately with a slim book I found in a little free library: Ill Met at Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber. It seemed like a fun read, but I found myself gravitating to the other book I brought instead: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. I figured I’d focus on the longer novel, since I had the luxury of whole afternoons blocked off to read in peace; I’d have plenty of time to finish the shorter work at home in small bits. It turned out to be an ill-fated choice, though, because I forgot the book on the bedside table when we left and have been wondering what happened to Farfarhd and the Mouser ever since, checking Half Price Books at least monthly for a replacement copy.
You can imagine my joy, then, when I found the book among the free offerings in the lounge of the hotel yesterday. This year I am not going to risk it, vowing to finish before I leave.
November 13, 2015 § Leave a comment
I thought I’d offer up a bit of an update after nearly a month away from the blog and my literary social media in general.
I’m proud to announce that Cedar Hart McDougal Kingston was born early on October 26th! It was a traumatic birth, though, and my wife, Cedar, and I had to spend the next ten days in the NICU. As a result, the only writing I’ve been doing lately has been updates to our Caring Bridge site (where you can hear Cedar’s whole story, if interested).
I’m happy to report that he has been home for over a week now, though, and is doing great: eating, pooping, peeing, and screaming as well as any other baby I’ve seen. That said, I still haven’t had much time to write, as he is ravenous for food and affection and too damn handsome to deny. I am having all sorts of crazy ideas for stories when he’s got me up drinking coffee at two in the morning, though, so I am looking forward to putting them all to paper soon.
Lastly, I have had time to work on my editing for Red Bird (check out our new website!), picking a killer line-up of chapbooks to publish in 2016: an interdisciplinary (maybe even antidisciplinary) exploration of identity and power through discussions of Wolverine, Eazy-E, and Michel Foucault, among other diverse enthusiasms; a charmingly dreamlike collection of real person fan fiction pieces written in gorgeous prose; and a collection of perfectly composed short stories exploring beauty in ruin. Last but not least, I’m excited to announce that we’ll also be publishing a print version of David Oppegaard’s heretofore e-book only “Breakneck Cove”. You should click on over to Onyx Neon Shorts and get yours right now–the story is such a stunner that I have no doubt that you’ll be wanting to get the physical copy on your shelf anyway once it’s available!
October 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
Red Shift, the old-school, pulpy sci-fi podcast that produced my short “The Pipe Cleaner of Bilge Hob IV” as part of their first season, is currently getting ready for their second season, and they need our help.
First, they are looking for short stories for the next season. The deadline is November 30th, and you can get all the submission details here.
Second, they are funding their second season through a Kickstarter campaign. A lot goes into making the episodes, including taking time in a professional studio and working with incredible actors. Plus, they PAY THE WRITERS!!! So you know your money is being put to good use.
So send your sci-fi stories, send your money. Red Shift makes awesome things out of sci-fi stories and money.
September 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
To celebrate the recent court ruling giving “Happy Birthday” back to the people, here’s a reblog of a jokealong from a few years ago!
Since people are continually stumbling onto The Oldest Jokes in the World in search of actual jokes, not just abstract theories about them, every other week we have a joke-along post. I’ll search through the site’s stats for a specific joke people have been searching for, comb the internet for the best existing examples, and try come up with one of my own. And then you all can add your own in the comments, so the next time someone comes searching, they won’t leave disappointed.
Since this week marks the one-year anniversary of The Oldest Jokes in the World, we have a very special Birthday Jokealong! On April 16th, 2012, I posted this blog’s first post; this jokealong is our sixtieth since, so I haven’t quite lived up to my promise of twice-weekly updates, but I have managed to say something at least every Friday. Initially, I wasn’t sure…
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