October 10, 2016 § Leave a comment
Coming to the Twin Cities Book Festival this weekend? You should drop by and say, “hi,” while I’m working at the Red Bird Chapbooks booth! We’ll have lots of chapbooks, old and new, for sale, as well as info about how to get involved with the press as a volunteer or author.
Not coming to the Twin Cities Book Festival? What’s a matter, brainless–don’t you know it is the best literary fun you can have in Minnesota all year long?
There’ll be lots of presses if you’re interested in finding a publisher and lots of schools, workshops, and MFA programs if you’re looking to improve your craft.
Plus, the place will be lousy with awesome authors: TOJitW favorite Mark Rapacz will have a table for his new book Boondoggle (there will be a review here shortly after I get my copy at the fest) and a new favorite of mine,Andre Alexis, will be talking and signing–his Fifteen Dogs has, so far, been the funniest and most surprising book I’ve read this year (I can’t wait to see him at 2:30, so just don’t drop by the booth then).
And if you just want books, there’s no better way place to get your hands on both the hottest and most obscure tomes out there! You can get all the details and the full schedule here.
March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
It is that time again: if you live in Minnesota, you should be gearing up for the Cracked Walnut Literary Festival! Featuring 25 readings at an incredible array of venues throughout April, it will bring the work of over a hundred writers to diverse audiences. Each night has a unique theme, so there should be plenty of interesting connections to draw. You can get the full schedule of events here.
I will be reading at 7pm on Friday, April 4th at The Coffee Shop Northeast (you can get full details here) and will share the stage with a couple of friends I’m looking forward to seeing again and some new names I’m excited to hear for the first time. The theme of the night is “Hooked”; I’ve written a lot about addiction in the past, but I’m planning to read from Slash in order to get everyone in the audience hooked on it’s unique blend of literary/trashy suspense. And I guess, while not as classic as alcohol or drug addiction, the novel’s protagonist is addicted to erotic fan fiction, so it works with the theme in that way, too.
In addition to hooking people on Slash (which will be FREE on April 4th-8th, by the way!), I hope the reading will hook everyone on the Cracked Literary Festival, as well. It is a great part of the Twin Cities Literary Community that writers and readers in other cities ought to be jealous of and that we Minnesotans should support in every way possible. I’m planning on attending a few in addition to the one I am reading in (my wife is reading at the April 14th event), and I hope to see you there.
February 13, 2014 § 1 Comment
Just wanted to draw your attention over to my serial novel Slash‘s first major review: 5 stars from IndieReader.com!
They’ve got plenty of flattering things to say about the writing, characters, and plotting, but for our purposes at The Oldest Jokes in the World, I’ll just share the pull quote from the top of the page: “SLASH is a masterfully done serial novel that anyone who appreciates well–written fiction should find to be an enriching read, artfully both comedic and dramatic.” The emphasis there is mine, because, as long-time readers of this blog will know, that blending of the comedic and dramatic is one of my main literary aims. I gather from writers I admire that it is generally best not to let the reviews affect your work one way or the other, but it was really encouraging and affirming to see that readers are not only understanding but enjoying what I’ve put so much work into.
You can read the full review here and learn more about Slash at www.slashserial.com. And to celebrate the good press, ebooks of Episodes One and Two are now just 99 cents each at Amazon and Smashwords!
March 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
This week’s posts is coming at you early, because I’m actually late in directing over to a little story I wrote for Geoff Herbach’s I’m With Stupid Stories.
Geoff’s a great Minnesotan writer and teacher who started this blog, full of writers sharing embarrassing tales of youthful stupidity, to promote his forthcoming novel, I’m With Stupid. It’s the final installment of a trilogy featuring high school nerd-made-cool Felton, who has got to be the funniest narrator in fiction—YA or OA—I’ve come across in a long while. I recently read the first book, Stupid Fast, and am excited to check out Nothing Special, hopefully before the conclusion comes out in May.
In any event, please do head over and check out my contribution, “Eyes Wide Shut“, and then poke around the rest of the stories; as CNF makes me nervous, mine is probably the least embarrassingly hilarious contribution.
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.”
February 1, 2013 § 3 Comments
Unfortunately, we’re going to skip the jokealong this Friday. I jumped into the third draft of a novel this week and feel I’m too deep into the problems with the old draft to do much other creative work for the next few days. Luckily, I have a guest post up on Ross Gale’s blog this week so you won’t have to miss me. Just click the image below to check it out.
Ross runs a great blog full of thought provoking and creativity inspiring content for writers. Ross was one of the first people to reach out to me when I was still struggling to start this blog, making me feel like I was part of a community when I was wondering what the point of it all was; he has a great way of fostering dialogue when so much of blogging feels like a bunch of writers who aren’t willing to read. As a result, I was thrilled when he asked me to participate in his Writers Series about how writers with day jobs persevere.
“One Day at a Time” is a little more serious (and juicily personal!!!) than what I normally write for The Oldest Jokes in the World, so if you came here for laughs and only feel somberer, you should check out this cool interview of George Saunders from The Colbert Report—he talks about how short stories are like jokes!
December 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
I was crammed into the bitch seat of a Ford Festiva, the closest I ever got to perfection.
It was the winter of my senior year of high school, and I was pretty sure I had it all figured out: I’d read a bunch of Kerouac the previous summer.
Kerouac made me want to be a writer. He made me want to be an intellectual rebel. He made me want to be a spiritual searcher. He made me want to be a Buddhist. He made me want to be a weeping angel of hangdog grace.
And since I was still in high school, I could be all those things just by saying so.
So what if you’re on the football team? I’m a writer. No, I don’t have a book published—I’m only 18—but I’ll show you my moleskine if you promise not to read it.
And I’ve got to say, I find your suburban Lutheranism dogmatic. I prefer the spiritual freedom of Buddhism. No, I guess I don’t pray, or meditate, or go to temple, or whatever—but I assure you, I am a Buddhist: notice, please, the Alan Watts paperback that has accidentally slipped out of my backpack beside your foot.
I hope it is clear that I’m poking fun at myself here—not those beliefs. While I consider myself a Christian now, I still feel there is a wealth of beauty and wisdom to be found studying Buddhism, and I truly have no idea who I would be if I hadn’t read On the Road and Dharma Bums when I was 17. But in a comfortable suburban life without too many opportunities to test and prove my beliefs to others or even myself, I spent a lot of time on symbolic gestures I hoped wouldn’t just communicate, but also cement and validate, the changes I felt going on inside me.
And for some reason, there was a week during that February when I thought tying a karaoke microphone to my belt-loop and wearing it like a fashion accessory was the perfect representation of everything I wanted to believe about myself.
I had a tight group of friends growing up, 5 or 6 guys who all hung together every weekend of high school, playing videogames and listening to music we were sure everyone else at our school was too stupid to like. We certainly weren’t cool—there were no girls anywhere near us—but we weren’t such big losers that we couldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we were actually cooler than everyone: that the pop squad in our school didn’t actually know what cool was, that once we got to college, we’d already have all the right indie rock and avant garde electronica CD’s and it would be clear who was actually cool all along.
R was one of the first of us to get a car, and we’d all cram into that tiny, wheezing Ford Festiva like pubescent clowns: blotchy faces, awkward physiques, and big smiles all around. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as simply happy as I did in the back of that car as we all traded off making fun of each other and the dolts we went to school with, always rehashing and adding to our history of inside jokes. As integral as the seemed to my life at the time, I’ve forgotten most of these little witties—and like most wit, they aren’t as funny when removed from the elements that inspired them—but here’s one example to give you an idea of where our heads were at at the time: one of the most famous and re-referenced of our jokes had to do with the time B made a point of vowing to all of us that he would lose his virginity on his upcoming trip to Steamboat Springs; it only took K a few seconds to come up with the term Fornication Proclamation, which took years and years for B to live down.
It was with this feeling in mind that I picked a karaoke microphone out of the back of R’s closet and wore it out to Cheapo Records, Blockbuster Video, and Granny’s Donuts that night. I mostly kept it tucked into my pocket, but would pull it out at moments when I felt seized by wit, raising it to highlight how important the pun or that’s what she said waiting on my lips was, then turning it on my friend for his reaction.
At times, I’d wondered if it wasn’t wrong to be mean to each other all the time, but I’d extrapolated a nearly religious reverence for wit from what I understood of Kerouac’s spontaneous writing process: if some force beyond my control and consciousness plopped a funny into my head, it was my duty to say it out loud; wit was worth so much more than the sort of contrived statements most people made when they thought before speaking. Taking the microphone around with me was my way of showing the world this deeply held belief: this shared experience between my friends was something of holy import. Like Jack and his crew of Desolation Angels, our lives were a matter of precious record.
I wanted to start my posts on the dichotomy between wit and prepared humor with this anecdote, firstly, to remind myself that there is no bigger fool that someone trying to take humor too seriously. I think the me back then would be happy to be called a fool, and I must not mind much either, because I keep groping around for something profound to say on this blog despite never getting hold of anything better to show than my own ass. Being a fool is unavoidable, but I hope that by grounding the discussion in proof of my follies, I won’t be tempted to many quick, sweeping judgements.
As I mentioned last week, my original impetus for these posts was a quick, sweeping judgement; within moments of pondering the question, I wanted to prove that wit was always the superior form of humor. My main reason for beginning with the above real world example of humor in use, then, was to use it’s details to complicate that simple thesis while enriching our understanding of the issue.
As you can see in the example, wit can’t exist without relatively tight connections between the speaker and the listener. We were like a gang back then, with little life to speak of but the life we shared at school and on the weekends; I couldn’t see it at the time, but the other kids didn’t laugh at the same jokes we did, not because they were stupid or because we were the chosen witty few, but simply because they didn’t spend as much time in R’s basement laying the groundwork for all those connections as we did.
Further, it requires a relatively strong sense of comfort to be receptive to a witty idea—they come to us less often in unfamiliar or threatening situations—and an even stronger sense of confidence to share it. It was these benefits the group afforded us, I see now, and not any holy calling, that made us such exceptional jokesters.
I had good intentions, I think, in espousing a philosophy that was open to anyone, but in practice, I was just drawing thicker lines around our group: we needed the microphone because it set us apart in a way that proved we were more important than the jocks or the freaks or the band nerds or the pop squad. One of the few specific instances I can remember using the microphone was to mock A for hanging out with the popular kids in pursuit of a girl who hung around with them; as with the Fornication Proclamation, I think we were really just trying to keep anyone from leaving the gang, trying to protect that sense of comfortable confidence we’d built together.
We couldn’t all stay in that Festiva for ever, though, and it was probably my anxiety about high school ending and us all moving on to different colleges that had me trying to hold on to what we had with a fundamentalist fervor. Thankfully, I only wore the microphone to school once or twice the next week and then half-heartedly again the next weekend before letting go of the phase. It wasn’t going to keep A from falling in love and it wasn’t going to keep time from passing. Nothing could keep our group together forever, especially since none of them seemed to want to chase after the wild literary life with me in college: as close as we were, I couldn’t get any of them to want to be the Ginsburg to my Kerouac. I couldn’t even get them to read Kerouac.
I’m happy to say I’m still close friends with almost all of the guys, but I don’t think we’ve ever been as close as we were when crammed into that Festiva. How could we be while trying to grow and explore the larger world, building adult lives for ourselves? As we all moved into the larger world, we had to turn our backs on our inside jokes, and I learned the value of a good prepped joke in an unfamiliar, high-pressure situation—which we’ll discuss in the next post in this series.