February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
Hello again, internet. I decided to spend Valentine’s Day with my wife, saving all my love for you for this week. I hope it doesn’t reflect poorly on how much love I have for you, my darling world wide web, but I’m actually just stealing this present for you from the fine folks at Common Good Books, my local independent bookstore. Not just a great place for readers, they’re also really supportive of emerging authors—they are always the first place to get their hands on the newest episode of my serial novel, Slash, and Colin (who plays the smart-phone-dummy in the video) recently interviewed me for their blog—so maybe this post is really about how much I love my real-world book store.
In any event, it is funny and literary, so it fits with the blog—plus it provides the perfect proof that the novel is still the most sophisticated and sexiest piece of technology humanity has invented.
January 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
You can find it in any ebook format–Kindle, Nook, ipad, pdf, whatever–at my smashwords page.
Or you can get it for your Kindle from amazon here.
It is also available for your Nook directly from Barnes and Noble’s site.
There is also a handsome physical version, much like the mysteriously minimalist first two episodes, but with a pink inner cover. If you live in the Twin Cities, you’ll be able to find it at Common Good Books in St. Paul or Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis by the middle of the month; you can stay tuned to the facebook group for announcements about when they receive the latest deliveries. Or, if you live elsewhere, you can mail-order it from my Etsy store.
I normally reserve the free previews for http://www.slashserial.com, but since this one is mostly comedy, I thought I’d post it here, too. To get a sense of the series as a whole, you can preview the whole first chapter here and an excerpt from Episode Two here, but all you need to know for this scene is that Alex is painfully shy and trying to foil a potential serial killer without drawing too much attention to herself.
As soon as she had skimmed to the end, Alex started searching for some way to contact Sylvia Camp, the young woman who played Mel.
Audiences so loved Sylvia’s sassy courage that they’d been demanding a spinoff even before season 3 ended: Momma Mel and Mel’s Many Munchkins were leading title suggestions on the Internet (though Alex had always thought Mel’s Mammaries would best capture the appeal). In the true test of whether a character had seized the nation’s subconscious, kkslash.net had been inundated with slash stories starring Mel over the winter and spring. A few featured her and Stephie making love, but Alex always felt like she was cheating on her fantasy when she read them—and preferred to read about Mel giving it to Lissa, anyways. Despite America’s yearnings, Sylvia hadn’t been content to play Mel for a minute more than she needed to; during the few discussions Alex had managed to sustain with her, Sylvia bragged that she was hoping to use Koop’s Kitchen as a stepping-stone to more serious acting. So even though Alex had heard—during one of Lissa’s jealous tantrums—that PJ had offered Sylvia a recurring role for the fourth season, she’d left the show for new roles as soon as her contract was up.
Since moving on, she’d easily surpassed Alex’s level of fame with a few talk-show appearances, and this summer had been scantily-clad in nearly as many magazines as Lissa (though she tended to be in Maxim air-brushed bikini shoots as opposed to candid tabloid up-skirts). With two B-grade teen comedies on her CV, Lissa was still more famous, but, searching the Internet, Alex realized Sylvia might soon eclipse her as well.
Horror fan communities online were abuzz with news of Bull God: adapted from an acclaimed novel by an enigmatic director and starring Sylvia Camp, the minutest details of production were daily news, including the location where principal filming had begun a week ago. Alex was thrilled to finally have her research provide an answer but, as she’d only hit dead ends so far, was unsure of how to proceed. The studio lot where they were filming was between her apartment and the Koop’s Kitchen studios, but she couldn’t just show up at Sylvia’s trailer: Hey, remember me? The short lady who looks like she’s thirteen and always stares at your breasts? Yeah, thanks, I’m good—just stopped by to warn you: last night I read a seemingly-prophetic piece of fan fiction in which Lissa Blaine and I fucked across the hall from your corpse…
It would be easier if both ends were anonymous, so she decided to call in a bomb threat to the entire studio. While the phone rang, she realized, first, that she didn’t know what to say and, second, that she shouldn’t call from her own phone. As a result, she was thankful when a recording asked her to leave a message or call back during normal business hours. It was still only 4am, so she showered and dressed, then refreshed and refreshed her search results to make sure she wasn’t already too late when she left her apartment at 6.
She called again from a gas-station payphone, and when a man answered—“Thanks for calling DM Studios, this is Chet. How may I help you?”—she realized she still hadn’t thought of what to say. “Hellooooo?”
“Um, yes, sorry,” she tried to speak like a man, from deep in her throat. “I’m calling today to report a bomb threat.” While satisfied with the gravelly affectation disguising her voice, Alex was disappointed her meek manners shone through.
“Oh, no,” Chet said blandly. “Did you actually see the bomb, or is it just suspicious activity?”
“I’ve seen the bomb myself, yes.”
Chet continued, only slightly more concerned, “Because the New York City block in B6 is being used to film a pilot for a new bomb-squad procedural called Tick, Tock, Boom. Were you in B6?”
“Jeez, okay. I’ll call security right now. Where were you?”
“I’m not going to say.”
“I don’t want you to find it. I hid it.”
“Oh shit: so you aren’t actually ‘reporting’ a bomb threat, you want to make one. You’re calling to threaten with a bomb.”
“Sure, I guess. Yes. Consider yourself threatened.”
Finally, Chet sounded worried: “Why?”
“Um.” Throat getting raw, Alex croaked, “Because of your… culture of promiscuity which you promote through your films and programs… with loose sex and scantily clad women… and men, too, I guess… and gays and…”
“Then fuck you,” Chet interrupted, and Alex hung up.
December 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
With 2013 nearly over, I wanted to take a moment to say thanks for all the interest and support you, fine people of the internet, have shown for my literary humor this past year. The joke-a-long posts have brought a steady stream of readers to the blog, Revolver was good enough to publish one of my short stories to their site, and I’ve released the first two episodes of my serial novel Slash. I’m really excited to share the rest of Slash with you throughout 2014, and am happy to have everyone who downloaded a copy, joined the FB group, or signed up for the email list along for the ride. As a thanks for all the love, I wanted to offer a little Christmas present to anyone interested…
Last weekend, I took part in a really fun local artists sale at the Carleton Artist Lofts here in St. Paul. In addition hanging out with great painters and crafters, I sold a bunch of copies of Slash. As a sort of salesman’s insurance against rejection, I also had a sign-up sheet for the email list promising a free e-reader copy for whoever signed. People seemed to really respond well to it, so I thought, why not open the offer up to the world at large as a Christmas present!
So, if you want to receive a free digital copy of Episode One, just fill out the boxes below, or email me at email@example.com, putting your preferred e-reader format in the subject line–anytime between now and January 1st, 2014.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See y’all in Episode Four!
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 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.”
October 2, 2012 § 2 Comments
I’ve been thinking a fair bit lately about titular lines—those lines in a book or movie which include the title of the work (the preceding, for example, is the titular line of this blog post). The working title for the book I’m currently writing is Slash, and though I think it is the perfect fit in many ways, I’m mourning the opportunity to write a titular line. Since it is just a single word tied closely to the subject of the book, it seems I have the narrator or one the characters saying “slash” almost every other page, so none of the lines carry the important weight of titular line.
The titular line is important, and as such, it has often been made the subject of fun. If you haven’t seen the Upright Citizen’s Brigade sketch on the subject, do yourself a favor and click the picture to the right for a link to the youtube clip. UCB gets it so right here, the sketch spawned it’s own tumblr, examples included below.
What makes the fakes so funny is that the titular line is supposed to be important—much too important, as the clerk in the sketch points out, to be given “to some stow-away who arbitrarily walks through the scene.” But it is exactly this importance that the annoying customer is trying to hijack; the titular line is like a flag to the audience, alerting them to a thematically important part of the story, and Titular Line Guy wants to get to hold that flag.
I sympathize with him now that I’m writing a titular-lineless book. As an author, the titular line is like a special card you get to play once a story, your only chance outside the first and last lines to make sure the reader is paying you their full attention, not just reading for entertainment, but for importance. It’s akin to announcing to the reader, “This is important! It was in big letters on the cover—remember?—so listen up! This is almost as important as my embossed name and the full page photo of me looking thoughtful on the back cover.”
In making you think of the story as a book or a film with a title, the titular line can take you out of narrative. Even if it isn’t delivered by a random weirdo, this brief suspension of the suspension of disbelief can ruin the story. If it seems even a hundredth as arbitrary or obvious as these parodied examples, the narrative will seem contrived or shallow. There’s also the danger that someone will reach the titular line and say, “That’s all this book is about?,” and quit with the assumption there’s nothing more important to come.
When done well, though, I think the titular line can take the reader briefly out of the story in a good way: they might pause for a second and think about the implications; maybe look back at the cover, keeping their finger on the passage while thinking about the expectations it initially inspired; they’ll think of everything that has happened so far, and how it has changed their idea of the novel; and hopefully dive back in to the next paragraph, ready to see how their understanding of those now familiar words might change again before the final line.