A couple weeks ago, I sat down with Rosecrans Baldwin, author of the terrific travel memoir Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down. Rosecrans talked about life in contemporary France, what it’s like when your coworkers read about themselves in your book, and getting tricked by a member of LCD Soundsystem.
If there is such thing as the Godfather of Security, Bruce Schneier is it. He is the author of the seminal treatise on computer security and crypto technique, Applied Cryptography, which Wired described as "the book the National Security Agency wanted never to be published." In the years since Applied's original 1994 release, Schneier has extended his range and ambition, writing the layman's guide to digital warfare, Secrets and Lies, while Beyond Fear: Thinking About Security in an Uncertain World discussed security's role and efficacy in the post 9/11 world.
With his latest book, Liars and Outliers, Schneier goes delves even deeper into the philosophy of security, considering the nature of trust–its necessity, as well as its limits. Employing game theory in an examination of human behavior, Schneier explains why there will always be populations of "defectors," and why we will always need measures to mitigate the damage they cause.
Mr. Schneier recently paid a visit to the Amazon campus to talk about his new book, and he stayed behind for a few more questions about the NSA and the Red Queen Effect. See more of Bruce Schneier's books here, and check out his blog for interesting commentary on the TSA and giant squid, among other topics.
[The editors at Omnivoracious are grateful to John Irving for this very special guest post about his new novel, In One Person, selected as one of our Best Books of the Month for May.]
In One Person is about a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman–Miss Frost, the librarian in a Vermont public library. The bi guy is the main character, but two transgender women are the heroes of this novel–in the sense that these two characters are the ones my bisexual narrator, Billy Abbott, most looks up to.
Billy is not me. He comes from my imagining what I might have been like if I’d acted on all my earliest impulses as a young teenager. Most of us don’t ever act on our earliest sexual imaginings. In fact, most of us would rather forget them–not me. I think our sympathy for others comes, in part, from our ability to remember our feelings–to be honest about what we felt like doing. Certainly, sexual tolerance comes from being honest with ourselves about what we have imagined sexually.
Those adults who are always telling children and young adults to abstain from doing everything–well, they must have never had a childhood or an adolescence (or they’ve conveniently forgotten what they were like when they were young).
When I was a boy, I imagined having sex with my friends’ mothers, with girls my own age–yes, even with certain older boys among my wrestling teammates. It turned out that I liked girls, but the memory of my attractions to the “wrong” people never left me. What I’m saying is that the impulse to bisexuality was very strong; my earliest sexual experiences–more important, my earliest sexual imaginings–taught me that sexual desire is mutable. In fact, in my case–at a most formative age–sexual mutability was the norm. What made me a writer was definitely a combination of what I read and what I imagined–especially, what I imagined sexually.
Billy meets the transgender librarian, Miss Frost, because he goes to the library seeking novels about “crushes on the wrong people.” Miss Frost starts him out with the Brontë sisters–specifically, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. She expresses less confidence in Fielding’s Tom Jones, which she also gives Billy. As she puts it, “If one can count sexual escapades as one result of crushes–"
Later, when Billy has become an avid reader and he returns to the library confessing his crush on an older boy on the wrestling team, Miss Frost–who has earlier given Billy novels by Dickens and Hardy–gives him Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. (This is the same night she seduces him.)
“We are formed by what we desire,” Billy tells us–in the first paragraph of the first chapter. He adds: “I desired to become a writer and to have sex with Miss Frost—not necessarily in that order.”
Later in the novel, Billy realizes this about himself: “I knew that no one person could rescue me from wanting to have sex with men and women.”
My first-person novels are confessional stories about sexually taboo subjects. The 158-Pound Marriage is about wife-swapping. The narrator of The Hotel New Hampshire is incestuously in love with his sister. Johnny Wheelwright, the narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meany, is called (behind his back) a “nonpracticing homosexual”; his love for Owen Meany is repressed. I always saw Johnny as a deeply closeted homosexual who would never come out. In One Person is a much shorter novel than Owen Meany, and Billy is an easier first-person voice to be in–Billy is very out.
Billy says: “I wanted to look like a gay boy–or enough like one to make other gay boys, and men, look twice at me. But I wanted the girls and women to wonder about me–to make them look twice at me, too. I wanted to retain something provocatively masculine in my appearance.” Billy remembers when he is cast as Ariel in The Tempest, and Richard (the director) tells him that Ariel’s gender is “mutable.” (Richard tells Billy that the sex of angels is mutable, too.) Billy later says: “I suppose I was trying to look sexually mutable, to capture something of Ariel’s unresolved sexuality.” He concludes: “There is no one way to look bisexual, but that was the look I sought.”
Billy doesn’t start out so sure of himself. “You’re a man, aren’t you?” he asks Miss Frost, when he discovers that she used to be a man. “You’re a transsexual!” he tells her, accusingly.
Miss Frost speaks sharply to him: “My dear boy, please don’t put a label on me–don’t make me a category before you get to know me!”
As Billy learns–in part, from being bisexual–our genders and orientations do not define us. We are somehow greater than our sexual identities, but our sexual identities matter.
*More – watch John Irving discuss In One Person:
(Author photo by Jane Sobel Klonsky)
Today on Omnivoracious, we're delighted to launch a month-long weekly advice column by Augusten Burroughs, who makes his move from memoirist to self-help strategist with This Is How (available May 8). He starts by answering a frustrated plea from a mom whose husband's foot-dragging makes the whole family cranky. Then he digs into the deeper reasons a "well known, happy, funny, kind, 25 year old" may have been dumped by their best friend.
My husband, the father of our two teenaged sons, works from home as a project manager for a large international corporation. During any given day, our lives will require that someone make a foray out of the house for band practice, food, lessons, doctors appointments, etc. Most of our outings are appointments where we are paying someone money for an actual unit of their time to be dispensed at an agreed up time.
This is the problem. My husband many, maybe even most times, in full knowledge of the rapidly looming time commitment, fires up a phone call, starts an email, sits down for a long personal moment in the bathroom. The rest of us are left seething until he presents himself ready to go. We now leave at the last possible minute, all cranky and out of sorts. If cars and traffic and every other variable aren't perfect, my husband's choices have left us NO wiggle room.
It's simply awful. I have tried to talk to him about it just because it angers me, but also because I don't think it sets the greatest example for our teens. Just the miasma of furor and unsaid words is poor parenting, I think.
What do we do? He has to be involved—so we need a way to get through to him. It's enough to drive me back to drink, which is a country I'm not welcome in any longer. Help. – Cate
I wish I knew even more. Does your husband’s differing degree of respect for punctuality result in real-world problems? Do you end up being late frequently and missing scheduled appointments you’ve already paid for? Or do you pretty much always make it, but it was just so close you aged like a month from the stress of it?
If the answer is the former, I have more questions. Is your relationship healthy and strong and good in other areas? If you’re talking to him about this, that at least tells me the two of you do communicate to some degree, right? Because if you and your husband are a good pair and the family is working, this might be like when you buy something you truly, deeply love at the store and when you get home, you realize there are extra hidden costs: it doesn’t come with batteries, you need a subscription, you can’t wear it until you have electrolysis, whatever. And as annoying as this can be, if you’re otherwise happy, sometimes you just have to fork over the extra.
It could also be that you and your husband are equally matched and diametrically opposed with respect to this issue. He may view appointment times more like serving suggestions. His mind might automatically add an “-ish” after every “3:45” appointment he’s told about.
And you may be undesirably neurotic about appointments; a person who arrives early and secretly feels a small superiority for this. If your own punctuality is a source of pride for you, it’s possible that you’re going to need to rewire your brain with respect to punctuality, for the sake of peace keeping and your own sanity.
I am somebody who arrives early. If I have a flight that leaves at seven a.m., I will wake up no later than four. I’ll be ready to leave by 4:45. And then more often than not, I end up with a fat chunk of time once I’ve cleared security to sit around and wish I’d slept a little later. I’ve been this way my whole life. I was the kid who had to know what he was going to wear to school the night before.
My boyfriend is more like how you describe your husband. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve ended up running across busy Manhattan intersections to make it somewhere just in the nick of time.
I have to say, I like my boyfriend’s method better. It makes my life more interesting. I could say, “more stressful” because we often end up rushing, but it’s not stressful. I won’t allow it to be. The fact that he does something so unlike the way I do it throws a massive helping of randomness into my life.
And this is a very good thing. If your husband were to follow your clock to the last tick, the two of you would never veer from the path you had chosen. But because of him, there’s all this last-minute chaos.
And chaos, my friend, is where everything new is born. –Augusten
What if you're a well-known, happy, funny, kind, 25-year-old and your best friend of 10 years ignores all your plans to hang out then replies one day with "I have no desire to hang out with you anymore"? –Anonymous
The statement “I have no desire to hang out with you anymore” is many things, but vague is not of one them. If someone in your life has spurned your repeated attempts to get together and then delivered this clinical-strength rejection, I think you’re looking at a very unsatisfying, puzzling and possibly forever-unresolved end of a ten-year-long friendship.
I’ve had relationships that have ended amidst loose ends, unanswered questions and misunderstandings. It’s incredibly frustrating because when somebody says to you, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore,” it’s only human to crave the answer to “Why?” But after your attempts to get together were rejected—possibly in the passive-aggressive spirit of hoping you’d “take the hint”—your friend was as clear and explicit as anyone could be, leaving zero room for discussion. You have to take their statement at full face-value and make no contact. I know you must want closure—which almost nobody gets, ever, for anything—and the chance to ask questions and express an alternate point of view. Your project now is realizing and then accepting as fact that you aren’t going to have resolution or answers or your friend anymore.
It’s frustrating and it’s not fair because almost nothing is organically fair in life, but when one party wants out of a friendship, the friendship ends for both.
I want to add one thing, though. In your description of what’s going on, you said this: “What if you're a well known, happy, funny, kind, 25 year old.” It didn’t escape my notice that each of these adjectives could be seen by many as a “selling point.” Who wouldn’t want a famous, funny, kind young friend?
But I want you to take out your white jacket, your magnifying glass and your stainless steel lab tray and pin those words down so you can examine them.
Why did you phrase your question that way? Why didn’t you simply state, “My friend of ten years has repeatedly rejected my invitations to get together and recently told me they no longer want to hang out and be friends”?
You added an extra layer of information to your question, a very interesting layer. A couple of different things might be possible. What relevancy does the fact that you are well-known have on this situation? Why did you mention that, specifically? And why did you place that first?
Were you trying to influence me, with respect to my reply? Because when you stack up all of those positive features of your personality, yes, that friend does seem crazy for not wanting anything to do with you. And if you’re doing that with me, are you doing it with other people in your life? I’m asking whether it’s possible you are using your celebrity, youth, kindness, and good humor as a form of currency, as payment for the services of being your friend?
I’m also well-known, and I can tell you that I would rather date somebody who had never heard of me than somebody who had all of my books on their shelf. Better to have somebody like you for you and not for what you do. –Augusten
Get more brutally honest, compassionate advice from Augusten in This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. It's one of our Amazon Editors' top 10 picks for the Best Books of May.
"And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest director and actors found themselves united against a common threat: the sagging box office. On that day, the Avengers were born–to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Heed the call, then–for this Friday, the Avengers Assemble!"
Today really is a day unlike any other–it’s practically a nerd holiday: The Avengers, a superhero team comprised of the biggest names in the Marvel universe (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor), hit the silver screen as portrayed by some of the biggest names in the box office (Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johannson, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson), directed and written by geek god Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I say thee yay!
What follows below is a primer for before and after the film, or a refresher for fans who’ve fallen out of the habit. It’s by no means comprehensive, so please suggest your favorite Avengers tales in the comments below.
The Ultimates Vol. 1 by Mark Millar and Brian Hitch: Purists, I apologize. The Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics are the rightful classics, but Whedon’s film seems to draw heavily from the tone and costumes (and origins) of Millar’s re-imagining. Here, the heroes are presented as government operatives, each with plenty of emotional baggage and secrets. It’s an adult take on a previously kid-friendly concept, told in a very contemporary, decompressed manner, and this first volume caused plenty of ripples throughput the industry.
The Avengers Vol. 1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby: The book that started it all. Bright adventures, crackling energy, and plenty of exclamation points keep these early stories alive. There’s a sense of true wonder at work and new readers should be prepared for the overflow of enthusiasm.
The Korvac Saga, The Kree/Skrull War, and Under Siege by various industry legends: 1970s and 80s tales as told by Roy Thomas, George Perez, Sal Buscema, Jim Shooter, Neal Adams, and more. Travel the cosmos, the future, and a who’s who of Avengers villains in the stories that many cite as the team in its prime.
Avengers Assemble and Avengers Forever by Kurt Busiek, George Perez, and Carlos Pacheco: These late 1990s stories are the last “classic” Avengers collections, featuring pages stuffed with big costumes and bigger dialogue balloons. Perez’s artwork never ages, lending a timeless appeal to these nostalgia-steeped adventures.
The New Avengers: Breakout by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch: And now we enter the contemporary era of Avengers stories, begun by Marvel hit-maker Brian Michael Bendis, who expanded the roster to include Wolverine and the enigmatic Sentry. In Bendis' take, the Avengers are much more of a street-level group of heroes, facing villains with cinematic flare. The run was so successful that it kickstarted a resurgence in popularity for the team, enough to support The Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers, Secret Avengers, and a second New Avengers (also another Avengers).
Avengers: The Art of Marvel’s The Avengers: Relive the big screen spectacle in this slipcased hardcover, which contains concept art, set photographs, stills, selections from Whedon’s script, costumes, creatures, and cast interviews. Be warned that it can give away parts of the film, so reading it after the theater is recommended.
If that weren’t enough comics activity to fill your weekend, this Saturday is Free Comic Book Day! The annual event encourages new readers to pick up the habit by offering special issues for free. Celebrate good times.
I've waxed enthusiastic on here before about Israeli writer and filmmaker Etgar Keret's sharply funny new story collection, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door. Between tour stops in California and Chicago, the very busy Keret kindly paid a visit to our Seattle offices to chat about storytelling, moviemaking, cake baking, serial killers, and trusting your instincts.
He also humored our request to read a piece aloud from the collection—look for the video at the end of this interview, and prepare to be charmed by his accent (warning for delicate ears: a couple of four-letter words are used).
Mia Lipman: You just came from the L.A. Times Book Festival. Were short-story writers well represented there?
Etgar Keret: Yeah, in my panel. It was very much like an AA meeting. “My name is this and this, and I write short stories. I don’t care! They tell me to write a novel, but I like writing short stories!” Then we all hug.
“Stuck” is pretty judgmental.
[Laughing] I didn’t mean stuck in a bad way, I meant that you’ve stayed with stories.
If your boyfriend would have said, “I’m stuck with you, but not in a bad way. In a nice kind of way…”
I love short stories, I’m a champion of them around here. Why does the short form work so well for you? What are you drawn to in that length?
When I sit down and I write something, I don’t say, “I want to write a short story” or “I want to write a three-page story”—I want to write something that is on my mind. Many times when I begin writing a story, I say to myself, “This is going to be my first novel.” And I think about the protagonist meeting his grandchildren in the park. And while I do that, a truck comes and runs him over after two pages. So it’s not intentional. For me, it’s very strange when people say, “Why don’t you write longer stuff?” The bottom line: You have something that you want to say or you want to write. And when it ends, it ends.
You’re also a filmmaker. Do you have a different creative approach to making films than you do to writing fiction? Is it a different state of mind?
I beg more when I make films. [Laughs.] Filmmaking is a collaborative project…when you write a screenplay, you should be able to know exactly what you’re doing, to be able to defend it, to be able to explain it to people. Because if a story is a cake, then a screenplay is just a recipe for a cake. If I make a cake and I don’t know exactly what ingredients I put in, but it comes out tasty, it’s OK. But if I have to write it on a page and somebody else has to make this cake, I have to be much more conscious.
So there is something about screenplay writing—it’s more conscious effort, more rational effort. I feel like I need another scene here, I need to establish that. But when I write [fiction], I really just sit down and write. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, and it’s completely an act of letting go and losing control.
Short stories are a famously hard sell for publishers and, I’d say, for the average reader. Do you think that’s changing at all as a result of social media? Do you think people appreciate short pieces more because our attention spans are getting shorter?
You know, it’s funny because I’m saying it here at Amazon, but there’s something about the publishing world that finds it very difficult to deal with changes. And many times you feel there is something very petrified there. It’s like being in the ditches, you know, and kind of shaking in fear.
The idea is that traditionally, short stories were not a big seller because for printed media, you have to sell something that is 400 pages long, and it’s more natural to have a novel. But if you think about, let’s say, the difference between records that you used to have and a song that you can download on iTunes, then today you can read stories individually. If I’m on my way to work on the subway, and I have eight stops and I want to read something, it makes much more sense to read a story.
So I think the world is changing, and these changes can actually improve the situation of the short story. But I don’t think that publishers have internalized it. You know, people just love stories. When you meet somebody, you tell him a story, you don’t tell him a novel.
Right. It’s a bedtime story, not a bedtime novel.
There is something very distinctive about this. When you meet your parents and you say to them, “You know what happened? I met this guy, and he told me this.” All the time, we’re telling stories. And the thing that put short stories in the shadow was very physical and pragmatic, it had to do with the way texts were being packaged. And I truly believe that this could change.
What is the literary landscape like in Israel right now? Are readers different there than here?
Well, for good or for bad, it’s a small country. And it’s very warm people, so everybody knows you, or dated your sister, or beat up your brother. I once wrote this sketch for a comedy show about the fact that in Israel, you can’t be a serial killer because when you come randomly into a building and you want to kill somebody—
You know the doorman.
You know the doorman, you’ve been to high school with the guy. So there is something about this kind of intimacy in Israel that makes readers very different. When I go overseas, there is something kind of mysterious: Who is this guy? And I think that the stories are being read differently because they tell the story of a different place, maybe a strange place. You don’t have this feeling of familiarity that I bet many Israeli readers have.
What are you reading these days? Do you have different taste on the road than you do when you’re at home?
I must say that on book tours like this, if I had time to read I would shower.
Yeah, that’s fair. A different city every day.
But I've recently finished reading Nathan Englander’s collection of short stories—of course, I’m biased because he’s a friend and he translated some of the stories in my collection—but I think it’s an amazing collection.
In addition to everything else, you also teach at the university level. What’s the first thing you say to new writers, or the most important thing? Where should they start?
What I say is that when you choose a style, then the best thing would be not to imitate something that is successful, something that you like. Because the thing that you can ultimately be best at is being yourself. So if you write stories and they come from the way that you perceive the world, and you write them in the way that is most instinctive to you, then you’re kind of the world champion in being you. Nobody could be you more than you can. So basically the moment that you believe that what you are is interesting, you are halfway there.
This is a big Rick Riordan week for us as not only does the final Kane Chronicles book, The Serpent’s Shadow, release today, but the author himself is coming to town–and we want to ask him your questions.
What would you like to know? Questions about Carter or Sadie Kane? Percy Jackson? What Rick Riordan does on his day off? Send in your questions for Rick via the Comments section and we will compile a list to ask him on video this Friday. We’ll let you know when it’s ready to watch, don’t worry, it won’t be long! This Thursday, May 3rd is our cut-off for questions–I can’t wait to see what our readers come up with!
Speaking of waiting, it’s been a year since we last saw Carter and Sadie Kane in The Throne of Fire and in that time we wondered, what do Carter and Sadie read when they aren’t tangling with angry gods or trying to save the world? If you’ve been asking yourself this same question, you’re in luck because we have the answer in this exclusive straight from the Kane’s themselves:
Sadie Kane: “Reading? You should talk to my brother the genius… Sometimes I read books about London and occasionally I try to learn new hieroglyphics, but mostly I’m too busy with trainees and trying to defeat Apophis.”
My Reading List:
• The Symbolic World of Egyptian Amulets by Philippe Germond
• Treasures of the British Museum by Marjorie Caygill
• The Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
• A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
• The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
• City Secrets London: The Essential Insider’s Guide by Robert Kahn and Tim Adams
• The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
• Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian by R.O. Faulkner
• Egyptian Love Spells and Rituals by Claudia Dillaire
• Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Carter Kane: “I read a lot. That’s why Sadie calls me Mr. Wikipedia. My dad is a pretty big history buff, so I read classics and try to learn as much as I can about Egypt and my ancestors. It’s good research when you’re trying to saving the world.”
My Reading List:
• The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Civilizations by John Haywood
• Falconry: The Essential Guide by Steve Wright
• The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
• The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Martin Luther King and Clayborne Carson
• The Egyptian Book of the Dead translated by Robert P. Winston and Wallace Budge
• Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
• The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne
• The LA Lakers: 50 Amazing Years in the City of Angels by the LA Times Sports Staff
• Britannia in Brief: The Scoop on All Things British by Leslie Baker and William Mullins
• The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Got problems? Don't despair: Augusten Burroughs, ultimate survivor and writer of remarkable insight, has answered our call to author an "Ask Augusten Burroughs" advice column, here on Amazon's Omnivoracious blog on four Mondays in May. (See below for how to submit your questions.)
Burroughs turned his harrowing early life and its alcoholic aftermath into six harrowing, surprisingly uplifting memoirs, including Running with Scissors and Dry. He's had the courage to grab the wolves of his past by their foaming muzzles and peer into their wild eyes until he owns them, and because of this, he's survived pretty much every experience a person in a modern-day first-world country could face in the course of their life–and emerged as an astonishingly well-adjusted person.
Arriving on May 8, his new book–This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More, for Young and Old Alike (also available as a Kindle book)–departs from memoir into the transformative terrain self-help. Don't let the snake-oil-salesmannish title and cover put you off: this is practical advice for anyone facing the confounding chaos of living.
Want to ask Augusten how to tame your wolves? Here's how:
- Now through May 1, email your questions to Omnivoracious. (Feel free to be anonymous and honest).
- We'll compile the most interesting of the bunch and send them on to Augusten.
- He'll choose his favorites to answer, and we'll post his replies here on Omnivoracious and on our Amazon Books Facebook page on May 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th. You'll also be able to find a link from the same page where you can buy the book.
In the meantime, he introduces his book in this video.
This spring, I became captivated by The Land of Decoration, a debut that made our list of the Top 10 Best Books of April. Grace McCleen’s visionary novel (widely compared to Emma Donoghue’s Room) grapples with immortal questions, especially for children raised in religious doctrines at odds with mainstream belief: how do you feel your way to the truth when faith blurs with madness, when pious parents may be oblivious to your pain, when your sense of Divine control dissolves? As I’ve watched the customer reviews roll in, it’s been fascinating to see how the book resonates with readers on different levels, depending on their own childhood experience and beliefs.
Judith, a bright 10-year-old in a poor Welsh valley, gets bullied for her faith in the impending End Times, and her life with her devout widower father feels oppressively quiet. So (almost as an act of creative self-defense) she makes an intricate replica of her town within her room, expanding and populating a world made from candy wrappers, shoe laces, sticks, and other cast-off bits. Then she discovers that her actions in her miniature world give her miraculous abilities (to save or destroy) in the real one, and what seemed like the voice of God may be something more sinister.
McCleen’s writing felt so visceral that I believed it must spring from an intensely imaginative spirit or the power of personal experience. Now I know it’s the result of some miraculous combination of the two–and a rare talent.
Her website offered clues into the remarkable scope of her creativity, including beautiful paintings and sculpture, and a village of 140 little people she made “when I wasn’t well and awake at night a lot.” Her bio says she’s “interested in sound, in the spiritual dimension, in miniature, and the natural world,” all forces she unleashes in this book. I also found myself beguiled by her songs, amazed by her note that at the time she recorded them, “I thought I was going to lose my speech,” a circumstance that makes her vocal poise all the more remarkable. The haunting “Preacher’s Daughter” thematically overlaps The Land of Decoration.
I reached out to Grace to find out more about her experience with writing the book, and how her art and music inspire her writing, and vice versa. Here are the highlights.
How did you first hear Judith’s voice—or did her story arise in part from your own life?
The passage opening The Land of Decoration came from a long unworkable novel, out of the blue one day, and I asked myself who would be speaking, what their environment might be. I was very ill at the time, and every paragraph and page was a feat in itself. I think that struggle reveals itself in the depth of the emotion in places (which perhaps verges on the melodramatic), and the pedestrian, ‘numb’ prose in others, as I was feeling either numb or very great emotion.
At its core, Judith’s story is about the power of belief. What do you believe in? Have you experienced what you’d call miracles?
I don’t believe in anything at the moment except emotional patterns laid down in childhood (and perhaps before that), which are very hard to shift. I have never experienced what I would call a miracle.
You’re intensely creative. Are you one of those people who believe you’re a conduit for a creative spirit, or do you have to work to stay inspired? Which medium is most important to you?
I am addicted to work, so a lot of the time I don’t think I’m channelling anything valuable at all; in fact my work obsession gets in the way of it. But sometimes - often when I am feeling great emotion – things come easily. The medium of music makes me most happy, words least happy, that is why I am giving writing up.
[Note: The last piece of this answer made me very sad until I saw on her website that she already has two more novels done and intends to finish her fourth this summer--so at least this won't be the end of her writing for us (yet).]
You recorded the songs on your website in your bedroom, at a time you thought you were going to lose your speech. What was that experience of almost losing your voice like for you?
The experience of almost losing my speech was deeply traumatic. But I was losing other bits of my body at the time, my balance, and feeling in my hands and feet for example. It was like being in a waking nightmare.
How does your songwriting overlap with writing stories, and vice versa?
I often write rhythm first for prose rather than words, and with music the words often come along at the same time – at the very first instant – as the notes.
Animal House, one of the most-loved movie comedies of all time, is hotter than ever. There’s a Broadway show in the works and a new, behind-the-scenes book called Fat, Drunk, & Stupid by producer Matty Simmons, who talks to us about what Hollywood first thought of the script (hated it!), what got cut, and why there was never a sequel.
Some highlights from the interview:
On getting the green light: My junior partner at the time was Ivan Reitman [who went on to make comedy classics including Ghostbusters] and we went into [Univeral Studios chief Ned] Tanen’s office and he said, “I hate this movie. Everyone’s drunk or having sex or getting beat up. Do you think you could make it for less than $3 million?" Now I had never made a movie. Ivan had made a couple of movies in Canada for about $8. I said, “Absolutely.” And I didn’t know what I was talking about. We made it for $2.8 million, and overall, everything in to date, it’s grossed about $600 million.
On the unforgettable audience response: We screened that movie in Denver … and at the end of that movie, the audience was standing on chairs and screaming and applauding and yelling. No one had seen anything like it. And then when they brought it back to Hollywood, they did a test screening and it got the highest rating in the then-history of the ratings system.
On getting Animal House to Broadway, with music by Barenaked Ladies: I had the idea about four or five years ago and it took me that long to convince Universal to do it, because they own the rights. They said, “Well, if you bring in the right team.” So I brought in a top Broadway producer, who many years ago was my publicity man and has since won about six Tonys (Jeff Richards), and the director of the Book of Mormon, the hottest show on Broadway (Casey Nicholaw).
Read more on the Amazon Studios Hollywonk blog.