Of all the great “novelistic” television shows we’ve seen over the last fifteen years, it’s interesting that only one–HBO’s current breakout hit, True Detective–was created by a novelist.
Nic Pizzolatto was born in New Orleans, raised in Lake Charles, and educated at both the University of Arkansas and Louisiana State University. He taught literature and writing at UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Chicago, and DePauw University. The first short story he ever wrote was “Ghost Birds,” an eerie tale of love, BASE jumping, and the way of the samurai. Pizzolatto sold it to the Atlantic Monthly, along with one other story, at the age of 25. It’s the opening piece in Between Here and the Yellow Sea, Pizzolatto’s book of short stories.
You can hear foretokens of True Detective’s Rust Cohle in the narrator of that story, who speaks in that same blend of worldly competence and metaphysical insight. Here, in a skydiving scene: “At 12,500 feet a jump doesn’t even feel like falling–more like being at the center of a cold explosion.” And just a little later: “Skydiving doesn’t compare to BASE. Out of a plane you’re too high and have no real sense of the bottom. Mu, the void, is not so immediate.” Mu, the narrator explains, is “the emptiness at the heart of existence to which everything returns.” It’s a place the narrator longs for–part of the reason why he BASE jumps, and part of the reason why he meditates, seeking “the Blue Triangle,” where he stores his “egoless self.”
You’ll recognize these same obsessions at the heart of True Detective, and if True Detective seems so startling, perhaps it’s because the show is not essentially sociological (like The Wire) or psychological (like The Sopranos or Mad Men), but philosophical–a grand treatise on the nature of human souls, hiding inside a murder mystery.
There appears to be some kind of party going on.
Sunday, March 9 at 2:00PM, we’re celebrating the release of J.M. Geever’s THE BLACK CAT at Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay, CA.
If you are anywhere within 1,632 miles of Morro Bay, CA this weekend, you should come.
(Get the book here.)
Can’t sleep? Don’t read this.
In Kenneth Calhoun’s debut novel, Black Moon, the zombie apocalypse arrives in the unlikely form of mass insomnia. Without sleep, everyone shuffles around aimlessly, in considerable mental pain, looting stores and rotting from the inside out. Only a lucky few can drift off to sleep anymore, and lab researchers are racing to find a cure. Calhoun, who has been published in The Paris Review and Tin House, delivers an action story with a literary pedigree, musing on the nature of wakefulness and the relationships we’d go to any lengths to save.
Black Moon will keep you up at night.
- Brian Hurley
The stories in Gay Propaganda—a collection of testimonies by LGBT Russians about finding love and making their way in modern society—are dull, dull, dull, which actually drives home the book’s point and helps make it one of the most exciting and necessary publications I have ever seen.
Gays in Russia are being harassed, disenfranchised, and even legislated against. Putin has gone so far as to sign a law banning “gay propaganda,” by which he means all public tolerance of homosexuals. How do you even begin to resist this kind of persecution?
With a book, of course.
The people profiled in Gay Propaganda tell their own stories in plain terms. Vasili breaks up with his boyfriend. Olga and Maria get pregnant. Oleg and Dmitriy meet through online dating. It’s everyday stuff. But in the context of Russia’s campaign of hate, the choice to live openly and unapologetically becomes dangerous, brave, triumphant.
Gay Propaganda is a simple book for complicated times. It douses a socio-political firestorm with humility, defiance, and love. It’s more than a book—it’s a step toward basic human rights.
- Brian Hurley
I met the other Elizabeth Bartels at a family reunion in New Jersey when I was in middle school. I had long been used to sharing my first name with classmates – in the fourth grade there had been enough Elizabeths to need to distinguish between us using our last initials. Quickly, though, my teacher shortened “Elizabeth B.” to “E.B.” when calling morning attendance and it stuck. Even though I was Elizabeth A. Bartels, I started going by E.B. Bartels, and when I was accused of having a redundant name (“Your name isn’t Elizabeth Bartels Bartels!”) I said that “E.B.” simply stood for “Elizabeth” cut in half: Eliza. Beth.
But then I met the other Elizabeth Bartels, the daughter of my dad’s first cousin: Elizabeth B. Bartels. Even though she was a few years younger than me – I reassured myself that I had been Elizabeth Bartels first – I felt threatened. This was the real E.B. Bartels. She didn’t have to use some clever justification to go by those initials if she wanted to.
I say “the” other Elizabeth Bartels because I have yet to meet another. Bartels is not the most common of last names. Occasionally I will meet a Bartel or Bartles or a Bartell. A couple times I have met or heard of another individual who goes by E.B., though those initials seem to be much more rare than D.J. or A.J. or K.T.. But never have I run into another E.B. Bartels.
If you were debating whether or not to take that loan to get your Master’s degree in creative writing, the New York Times T Magazine has just the thing to send you running to the closest available co-signer.
In their most recent issue, T features famous writers in the spaces where they work. Witness Colson Whitehead casually sipping from his mug among his brilliant clutter. Observe Mona Simpson, red-lining stories on a reclaimed wood kitchen table in what appears to be a Williams Sonoma catalog shoot. Ponder whether Joyce Carol Oates has more published books, or more pictures of her own face in her office.
These are the idyllic lands of sagging shelves, sloped ceilings and soft light through the window. The kinds of rooms that most writers wish they were actually heading to when they go to whatever restaurant or cubicle where they spend their money-making time. Whitehead says that even having a great room isn’t enough, and he moves his desk around wondering “Where’s the mojo these days? What room, what corner? How about by the window, one story above the street?” I did most of my best writing so far in a near-frozen storage space/extra bedroom facing a filthy Washington, DC alleyway — a view that didn’t matter because the sun was rarely up yet, and the dust-grimed blinds were always down. But I wrote some things there that I still find appealing.
If you have a great place where you get your writing done, send it to us. We’ll put you on the internet.
- Michael Moats
“I wanted to go back to being a reader.” Thus stated is one of the many intentions of Rebecca Mead at the start of her new book, My Life in Middlemarch, but it is the one that most rings true by its conclusion. Part memoir, part biography, part New Yorker “Personal History” essay stretched to nearly 300 pages, My Life in Middlemarch brings George Eliot to life and grasps—at times weakly so—for resonance between Eliot, her greatest novel, and Mead’s own experiences. I loved it.
Let me be clear, I remained unsure about the book for its first two or three chapters. (Mead organizes her text into eight sections, mirroring the eight books of Middlemarch.) Perhaps because of Mead’s many objectives—in addition to “being a reader”, Mead hopes to turn her “deep attention to something that mattered to me”; “recover the sense of intellectual and emotional immersion in books that I had known as a young reader”; “think about what George Eliot might have sought, and what she might have discovered, in writing Middlemarch”; “consider how Middlemarch has shaped my understanding of my own life”; and “become a little less melancholy, a little less resigned”—her book can seem disorienting and fractured, as though she began writing one sort of book and then at some point switched to another, before then turning her full attention to yet another. In fact, one might argue that this peripatetic writing exercise in book form is exactly what she did. Mead does manage to address each objective I quoted. In the book’s weaker sections, however, I wondered whether the book would be stronger without all of the many intentions Mead cites, as well as the sometime tenuous connections between them. And yet Mead’s fragmented focus did not stop me from wanting to immerse myself in her text; my enjoyment of reading it only grew as I read on.
And now it’s a book. Chad Harbach’s essay from n+1 about “the two cultures of American fiction”—the MFA mill and the NYC establishment—has grown into a collection of 19 essays, including pieces by George Saunders, Emily Gould, and Elif Batuman, all of them addressing the question of how, exactly, a person becomes a writer in this day and age.
One lesson of MFA vs NYC is that writers are almost always broke. Luckily for broke writers, 9 of the book’s essays are currently available online. So if you don’t want to buy MFA vs NYC—perhaps because you’re writing a novel about Moldavian zookeepers—here is half of it for free.
“MFA vs NYC” by Chad Harbach
“A Mini-Manifesto” by George Saunders
“The Fictional Future” by David Foster Wallace
“How To Be Popular” by Melissa Flashman
“People Wear Khakis” by Lorin Stein with Astri von Arbin Ahlander
“Money (2006)” by Keith Gessen
“The Invisible Vocation” by Elif Batuman
“Dirty Little Secret” by Fredric Jameson
“Reality Publishing” by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington
And some extra tidbits.
A few of these pieces were edited—shortened and/or given a different title–for the book. We’re using the titles from the book itself.
Three more essays have been published online. Thanks to Michael Bourne at The Millions for pointing them out.
“The Pyramid Scheme” by Eric Bennett
“Into the Woods” by Emily Gould
“Seduce the Whole World” by Carla Blumenkranz
- Brian Hurley