Deleted Scenes, Part 1

TVs_at_Henry_Miller_LibraryI always like checking out the deleted scenes when I rent DVDs.  They’re like a little world unto themselves, not quite fitting into the world of the film, but worth too much to leave on the cutting room floor.  I like to think about the choices directors (and all the people with power over directors) make.

I also know that, when I write a novel, I cut more than I keep.  Most of what I cut deserves to be lost.  Everyone has bad days.  The same goes for me when I’m writing.

There’s also stuff that I like, but it gets cut anyway.  Usually these cuts come down to plot or pacing issues.  Usually, I save these excised chapters and do nothing with them.

Recently, a buddy of mine named Kevin Dunn read Madhouse Fog.  He also read the Razorcake column where I talk about writing Madhouse Fog.  In the column, I mention one of these excised chapters.  Kevin asked if he could read it.  I thought, why not?

And, if Kevin gets to read it, why not let everyone?

So below is a PDF of the original chapter 19.  At the last minute, my editor at Manic D Press asked me to cut this chapter.  She felt that it was too long and it deviated from the plot of the book.  I could see her point.  I’d inserted this chapter and taken it out a few times while working on the book.  I, myself, wasn’t sure that it belonged.  So, when Jennifer asked me to cut it, I agreed.

Still, I think it’s kinda cool.  You can check it out for yourself by clicking the link below:

Excised chapter 19.

Best L.A. Novel Ever

for love of imabelleFor the past several months, I’ve been sucked into the L.A. Weekly‘s “Best L.A. Novel Ever” tournament.  They started with thirty-two books.  I’d read almost half of them previously.  I’d seen the movies for four or five more.  I’d taught a half dozen of the books, at least.

The tournament divided the novels into four regions.  Not surprisingly, I was most familiar with the novels in the “Noir” and “Rebels & Outcasts” regions.  I was almost completely ignorant of the “Hollywood” region.  I guess my reading matches my L.A. experiences.

Novels went head-to-head and worked their way through the brackets.  I didn’t want to talk about this contest to anyone until I found out who won.  Now that I know, I’ll throw in my two cents’ worth.

If you want to read the whole competition without knowing who wins, stop reading my blog post now and go the the contest link at the L.A. Weekly.

First off, any “best novel ever” competition is inherently flawed.  We all know that.  Novels are subjective beasts.  They depend on your personal tastes, where you are in your life when you read them, how much you can or can’t relate to the world of the novel, how the novel speaks to you, etc.  Our relationships with novels are intimate and personal.  Saying a novel is “the best” is like saying your kid is the cutest.

Second off, it’s fucking awesome that Chester Himes won it all.  I’ve been trying to push Himes on people for years.  I love his Harlem crime novels with Coffin Ed Johnson and Digger Jones.  Rage in Harlem is in my top three crime novels of all time.  I’m not even sure what the other two in the top three would be.*

Himes’s Harlem novels inspired my writing of Train Wreck Girl.  Himes has the ability to draw me into a world completely foreign to me, teach me the lingo, and make me feel like an insider.  Though I’ve never been to the Harlem that Himes writes about, I feel like his novels bring me inside.  I wanted to capture working class Florida, and particularly the neighborhood in Cocoa Beach where I lived for years, with the same kind of insider’s feel in Train Wreck Girl.  In no small way, that novel is my take on a Himes novel.

What I really like about Chester Himes are his non-crime novels.  His short stories, especially the ones that cover his time in prison, are heartbreaking.  I can never plow through writers’ memoirs, but I read both volumes of Himes’s.  His first novel If He Hollers, Let Him Go, is probably his most powerful.  It’s raw.  It rambles and runs all over the place.  It’s also one of the most honest novels I’ve ever read.  Himes is clearly trying to understand something about racial and economic injustice against the back drop of World War II.  As a reader, we get to muddle through this world with Himes, searching for the answers to the same questions Himes can’t answer.

If He HollersIf He Hollers, Let Him Go is one of those novels that never seems to make it into multicultural literature classes.  Those classes tend to focus on celebratory multiculturalism–the idea that we’re all the same on the inside, that we’re just like the hero of the book, that skin color doesn’t matter.  Himes doesn’t give us that in this book.  He shows us that we’re not all the same on the inside because we’ve all been shaped by our particular experiences, which are all different.  Skin color does matter.  We’re not “just like” Bob Jones, the protagonist of If He Hollers, Let Him Go.  Some of us can perhaps understand his frustration and his anger, but none of us can put ourselves in the unique historical moment that he endures.

Bob Jones is a hard character to love.  At one point, he seriously considers raping a woman.  When he decides against it, the reader can’t be relieved because we have to watch Jones beat himself up for not raping the woman.  Bob Jones is an even harder character to hate.  Everything he does seems to make sense in context.  That context is so bizarre, so maddening, that judging Bob Jones becomes secondary to wrestling with the injustices of the world that create the context.

Try working through that in a multicultural literature class.

Actually, I have.  It was one of the most successful books I’ve taught.

If He Hollers, Let Him Go was greeted with mixed reviews when it came out in 1945.  Himes himself largely regarded it as a failure.  It’s in print now, thanks to the success of his later crime novels, but it seems to go in and out of print regularly.  It’s never really gotten its due as a seminal novel for understanding race and class relations in the U.S.**  Now, the L.A. Weekly has run four reviews of it in the last few months.  It won the title of Best L.A. Novel Ever.

I can’t say I would’ve given that title to this novel, but I was rooting like hell for it after round one.  I’m stoked Himes won.

I’m glad, too, that L.A. Weekly put all this time and effort into talking about books.  It seems so rare to come across that in the mainstream media.


*Actually, I know what the other two would be:  The Long Goodbye and Inherent Vice.

** Though I gave it its due in my column for Razorcake, Issue 48.


A Weird Tale

Kiyoshi_Madhouse_TreeThe San Diego City Beat wrote about three weird books that came out this summer.  At the top of the list: Madhouse Fog.

I know it’s a strange book, and if he’s going to compare it to the strangeness of Thomas Pynchon, Aimee Bender, Haruki Murakami, and Richard Brautigan, I’ll take it.

You can link to the review here.

Or you can just look at that pretty picture that Kiyoshi Nakazawa painted.

You Have Found Other People

Other People MastheadWithout a doubt, my favorite podcast–literary or otherwise–is Other People. I’m not just saying that because I’m the subject of today’s show.

Other People is run by a guy named Brad Listi.  He’s the author of Attention. Deficit. Disorder. and one of the founders of a literary web site called The Nervous Breakdown.  He’s also a great interviewer.  I don’t say things like that lightly.  I ran a punk rock magazine for years, and I read punk rock fanzines for even longer.  I’ve become very picky about what interviews I’ll read or listen to.  They can get so dry sometimes: the same old questions, the same perfunctory answers.

There seems to be two ways to avoid this type of interview.  You can either research the hell out of the person you plan to interview, talk to people you know in common, and dig out the embarrassing or personal or insightful things that you discovered.  Todd Taylor has mastered this approach in his Razorcake interviews.  (Check out this Duane Peters one, if you doubt me.)

The other way to avoid a dry interview is to come in with no expectations, really listen to your subject, and build off her responses in an organic way.  This is tough.  It requires you to have a rich, interesting conversation with a total stranger, to take this stressful situation and make it seem totally relaxed.  Brad Listi tends to do this (over the phone, which, believe me, is even tougher).

I’ve been listening to Other People for a while now.  It’s clear to me that Brad doesn’t typically read the books of the authors he interviews ahead of time.  I’m okay with that.  I usually haven’t heard about the authors, either.  I like the process of discovery that occurs.  I also like that he takes writers out of their element.  He forces writers to discuss what he wants to discuss, not what they want to.

While that’s great if you’re the listener, it’s a little tougher if you’re being interviewed.  Brad interviewed me.  He somehow got me talking way too much about my carpentry days.  At several points in the interview, I was thinking to myself, can’t we talk about my novel now?  Still, if the interview with me is anything like his typical interviews, it should be enjoyable.

You can listen to it by clicking the picture at the top of this post or by clicking this link here.

The Madhouse Fog Experiment

Almost every event is more fun if you go to it.  I know that sounds obvious.  Still, sometimes the night of the event rolls around and we’re feeling lazy or cheap or broke or tired or whatever, so we watch the game on TV or we listen to the record instead of going to see the band play.  So, if you’re feeling lazy or tired and still want to see me put on a reading, here’s the video of me reading the first chapter of Madhouse Fog at Skylight Books.

Being cheap or broke is no excuse.  You can see me perform live–for free–tomorrow night.  I’ll be doing a fun event at Pop Hop in Eagle Rock (5002 York Blvd., Los Angeles, CA) with The Drunken Master 2, Kiyoshi Nakazawa.  It’ll be a lot more fun than sitting at home and watching shit on YouTube.  Click on the poster for details.

Pop Hop Flyer

My Next Reading

The next event I’m doing will be at a cool bookstore in Eagle Rock (Los Angeles), right around the corner from my old neighborhood of Highland Park. I’m teaming up with artist and Razorcake contributor Kiyoshi Nakazawa to do something a little different.  We’re going to play some surrealist games before the reading starts.  It’ll be a little more interactive and a little more fun than your typical reading.

Here’s all the particulars that you need to know.  The event kicks off at 7:00 PM on Friday, July 12.  The Pop Hop is located at 5002 York Blvd., Los Angeles, CA.   You can click on the poster for a link to the complete event description on The Pop Hop’s web site.

I hope to see you there.


Girl Factory

Girl FactoryThree or four years ago, I had an idea to write a regular feature for the local Ventura weekly called (in my mind), the Indie Book of the Month Club.  The idea was to write a review/personal essay about a book on an independent press.  Independent publishers don’t get nearly enough press.  I read books from indie publishers all the time.  I figured I could dedicate seven or eight hundred words a month to promoting the cause.  So I wrote a sample essay, walked down to the VC Reporter, and plugged my idea.  The editor said no.

Last year, my buddy James Jay came up with a similar idea for a column for the local Flagstaff weekly, Flag Live.  He asked me if I was interested in being one of three writers for this column.  I said, “Sure.”  I told him that, if he wanted a sample to pitch to the editor, I already had one.  I emailed the sample to him.

Time passed.  The editor at Flag Live asked James, Mark Gibbons, and me to all write our first installment.  I wrote another column for the weekly.  I sent it to James.  I didn’t hear anything about it.

Fast forward several months.  I was in Flagstaff for the Northern Arizona Book Festival.  In between events, James Jay told me, “Oh, yeah.  Your book review ran in Flag Live.”  I’d completely forgotten about the column idea.  I thought he meant that the weekly had reviewed Madhouse Fog.  A confusing conversation followed.

All is cleared up, now.  I’ll be writing a monthly book column with James Jay and Mark Gibbons.  We’ll each write four a year.  If you’re interested, you can read my first installment of the Flag Live column “Words that Work” here.