Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A couple things

A story from Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, "The Museum of Whatnot," is now up at Fifty-Two Stories.  Thanks to Cal Morgan for putting it online.  There are some really wonderful stories at the site, which seeks to publish a new story each week for 2009, including work by Blake Butler, Mary Gaitskill, and Casey Kait.

Also, though I forgot to mention this a couple weeks ago, John Madera put up an amazing list of noteworthy novellas at his blog.  He asked me for my top ten, which can be found here.  Looking at the other lists, I found some novellas that I would have included had I remembered them, but, actually, I don't know what I'd take out from my list, so it worked out best this way.  

Publishers Weekly picked Tunneling to the Center of the Earth as one of fifteen "Favorite Reads of the Summer" which was very nice of them. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Atlanta, GA & Chattanooga, TN

I am in Sewanee, TN.  Two days ago, I was in Atlanta, GA, and just a few hours ago, I was in Chattanooga, TN.  I'll start with Atlanta.

My dad drove me again.  He listened to an audiobook on his headphones and I played Yahtzee.  I was reading for the Georgia Center for the Book at the Dekalb County Public Library.  There was a nice crowd that included my friend Chelsea Rathburn, author of the poetry collection The Shifting Line.  Chelsea was one of the first friends I made at the Sewanee Writers' Conference and now she's winning NEA grants and getting great teaching gigs and publishing in big places, and I am surprisingly not as jealous as I thought I would be.  That's the mark of a true friendship.  The reading went well and I sold some books and I had a real thrill when one of the people who came to the reading ended up being Thomas Mullen, who gave me a copy of his first novel The Last Town on Earth, which was a very kind thing to do.  I read the first thirty pages on the way home and was hooked.  It's about a town (in 1918) in Washington state that quarantines itself to prevent infection from a deadly epidemic.  Did I just say deadly epidemic?  I did.  How can you resist?  So I had a good time and saw some nice people and sold a few books.  Not a bad night.

It was made even better by the fact that my dad and I went to The Varsity.  It's the largest drive-in fast food restaurant in the world.  Nipsey Russell used to work there as a car hop.  I have a tendency to avoid the popular places because I think that they coast on their reputation, but, goddamn, The Varsity is awesome.  I got two chili dogs and a Varsity orange drink.  My dad got a slaw dog and a chili dog and we split an order of onion rings.  It was, as always, very very good.  I cannot remember the last time I went to Atlanta and did not eat at The Varsity.  We bought eight peach pies to take home with us and hand out to our friends and family and remind them that we are wonderful people.

Tonight I read at Rock Point Books in Chattanooga, TN.  My wife read here when her book of poems came out and it's a great store with a really nice staff and so I'd been looking forward to this reading.  I had some good friends show up, which made me happy.  Jason Griffey, the father of Griff's favorite friend, Eliza, came to the reading.  Jason is one of the few people I know who will talk to me about zombies and comic books and professional wrestling with as much enthusiasm as I have for these subjects.  My friend, Buzz Sienknecht, who has come to the Sewanee Writers' Conference every year that I've been on staff, also came to the reading and he brought four other people with him, which was very nice and made me feel lucky that I know him.  And my friends Jacob (who works with my wife and who humors me when I ask him to come into my office and look at my Batman statues) and Jessica (who I have taught in three separate creative writing classes and who writes wilder stuff each time) from Sewanee also made the trip.  And my mom and dad were there.  What I'm trying to say is that there were some people in the audience who already liked me, so I thought it might go well.  And it did.  It was a fun reading and I answered a few questions and signed books and had a great time.  Thanks to the staff at Rock Point for having me.

After the reading I bought a hardcover collection of Paul Pope's Heavy Liquid.  If you don't like comic books but wish you did, you should read anything by Paul Pope.  I've got the actual issues of this comic series but I like it so much that I spent 35 bucks to have it in a hardcover collection.  This is not smart.  Oh well.

My mom drove me to Chattanooga for a radio interview at UTC before the reading.  She dropped me off and I waited and read the Chris Adrian story in the New Yorker.  I love Chris Adrian's work so much, and this story was amazing.  Good lord it's so beautiful and so sad.  If you haven't read it, you should read it.  I ended up talking about it a lot during the radio interview.  I think I might have said, "I wish I was Chris Adrian" at one point.  I once again mentioned how lonely I had been in my twenties but the interviewer asked me about my wife and child in a follow-up question and got me to clarify that I'm not so desperately lonely now.  Thanks, Monessa, for saving me on that one.

After the radio interview, I met my mom at Cheeburger, Cheeburger, a burger place in Chattanooga.  I've never been and it's a chain, but I really wanted to try it.  I am so happy that I did because it was a life-changing event.  I had heard about a certain burger there that I was jazzed about and so I ordered "Our Famous Pounder".  You might think that this is a one pound burger.  It is not; it is 20 ounces.  It is 1 1/4 pounds.  If you can finish it, you get your picture taken and placed on the "Wall of Fame".  Oh, god, I wanted to be on that "Wall of Fame" so bad.  I also got a chocolate shake and onion rings.  Was this a mistake?  Probably.  The burger came and there was so much meat and cheese that the bun could not contain it.  I was giddy.  Fifteen minutes later, the burger had disappeared.  I even ate the green olive that garnished the burger (and I hate, hate, hate olives) because I didn't want to get disqualified.  My mom called the waiter over to our table and he verified that I had finished the burger and then he went to get the camera.  He came back with a camera and a gigantic hat in the shape of a hamburger.  I was to wear this hamburger hat in the picture.  "Oh, no thank you," I said.  It's the rule.  "Okay," I said.  He took my picture.  Then he asked what my name was and where I was from.  I told him.  He then shouted very loudly, "Ladies and Gentlemen, my friend Kevin from Sewanee, Tennessee, just finished a 20 ounce hamburger.  Please give him a round of applause."  People clapped but the look on their face was a strange smile that barely masked their disgust.  My mom thought this whole event was the greatest thing of all time.  I think she was more proud of me for eating the burger than my publishing the book of stories.  During my reading, she sat in the back row and sent a picture of me with the burger hat to all of her friends on her cell phone.  After the reading, my mom took my dad back to the restaurant to show him my picture on the wall.  I have great parents.

I've got a break before I head east for a few more readings so I'm going to take it easy.  Thanks to everyone who has bought the book or come to the reading or mentioned the book.  I appreciate it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blytheville, AR

I'm in Blytheville, AR.  I went to That Bookstore in Blytheville, run by Mary Gay Shipley, and it's a really wonderful place.  That's been one of the best things about this tour, getting to visit all these really cool indie bookstores.  Not having easy access to one, you forget just how awesome a bookstore can be and how it can cater to the town while also promoting any book that gets them excited.  
The reading...did not really happen.  I showed up fifteen minutes early and I waited for someone to show up.  It did not seem like it was going to happen.  I was totally okay with the fact that no one was going to show up.  It was a Friday night and I am an unknown writer with a book of short stories.  I felt bad because Mary Gay had made a LOT of chicken salad sandwiches for the potluck.  I was going to have to eat a LOT of chicken salad sandwiches to make it up to her.  Five minutes past when the reading was supposed to start, a guy walked in.  I was in the back of the store, staring at the chicken salad, but I could hear Mary Gay ask him if he was here for the reading.  He said he was.  She asked him how he'd heard about it and he said he'd seen it in the newspaper.  And, he said, he'd read the tour diary on this blog.  Well, Steven, thanks a whole bunch for letting me retain a very small fragment of my dignity.  It was the first reading he had ever attended.  But I did not read, because that just seemed like a bad idea.  Instead, he and I talked about Stephen King and our writing regimens and I gave him a copy of the book.  I ate sandwiches with Mary Gay and the staff and my dad and then I signed one of the wooden folding chairs in the store, which is an author tradition there.
Thanks also to my friend Justin Quarry, who sent me a bottle of wine and had reserved two copies of my book for me to sign, which made me really happy.  He's on a writing residency in Utah, which sucks because I wanted to see him, and two people at the reading is more than one person at the reading.
My father and I ate breakfast this morning in Oxford, MS.  We ate at Big Bad Breakfast and I had the breakfast sandwich called "With Signs Following."   It had sausage and cheese and egg and tabasco mayo on white toast.  It negated the need for lunch.  Though we had planned on eating at Dixie Pig in Blytheville, my dad and I decided to eat at the Grecian Steakhouse (right next to the Olympia Steakhouse), because it was next to the hotel.  All the waitresses seemed to be twelve years old.  Our waitress was left-handed.  My dad is left-handed.  He tipped her double.  It is a source of shame for him that I am not left-handed.  
So that's it.  I go back home tomorrow.  I get to see Leigh Anne and Griff, though perhaps they will not remember me.  Or perhaps they have learned how to live without me and my presence will cause unhappiness.  I'll pick up the tour diary next week, when I read in Atlanta and Chattanooga.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oxford, MS

I'm in Oxford, MS.  Before that, I spent the morning in Jackson, MS.  I filmed a roundtable discussion for the show Writers on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.  I got to sit at a table with Richard Bausch and Elizabeth Spencer, which felt like a dream.  These are two writers that I love very, very much.  It was a heck of a lot of fun and I felt like I didn't embarrass myself.  In fact, I said some pretty powerful stuff about the art of writing fiction.  Well done, Kevin Wilson.  Tell us again how writing a story is like building a boat that you will sail to epiphany island.  Before the taping, they took a picture of us and, at the end of the taping, they already had the photo in commemorative frames for us.  Hot damn.

Then we ended up in Oxford, where I read for Thacker Mountain Radio.  It was awesome.  There were a ton of people.  I got to read with Alan Huffman, who wrote Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History.  If that description doesn't make you want to read the book, I don't want to know you.  Pat Thomas (the son of James "Son" Thomas) and The Mayhem String Band both performed and were amazing.  It was great to see SWC-alum John Oliver Hodges and UF-alum Elizabeth Kaiser.  I also got to hang out with Michael Bible and David Swider, who run the literary magazine Kitty Snacks.  They gave me a copy of the first issue, which is incredible.  It has Jack Pendarvis and Sam Pink and an interview with Geologist of Animal Collective.  Good lord, the whole event was just wonderful.  From here on out, I need to remember to read only with another, more talented, writer and two musical groups.

My dad and I ate at Whataburger for lunch.  We are not doing great on our lunch choices.  For dinner, after the reading, we went to Ajax, which everyone in Oxford suggested as a good place to eat.  They were right.  I had a dressed roast beef and gravy Po-boy.  Man, it was good.  Really, really good.  I would like to go back for lunch and eat it again.

Tomorrow we head over to Blytheville, Arkansas, for a reading at That Bookstore in Blytheville.  The description of the event on the website says, "Have potluck with the author of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth."  That sounds awesome.  I'm looking forward to this reading, the last of this section of the tour.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Memphis, TN

I'm in Memphis, TN.  I had a radio/tv interview with Book Talk, a program on 89.3 WYPL.  The key point is that it was a radio/tv interview.  I thought it was a radio interview.  I wore a western shirt and busted up sneakers and I did not shave.  As I mentioned in a previous entry about my Greensboro visit, I do not like being underdressed.  The host, Stephen Usery, told me it was no big deal and then promptly went and put on a sports coat for the interview.  I went over to the studio and Stephen came in a few minutes later and said that my father, who was waiting in the reception area, had told him how much he appreciated Stephen interviewing me.  This made me feel like I was a kid in the Make-A-Wish Foundation and my father had facilitated the acceptance, publication, and subsequent promotion of this book without my knowledge.  The interview went well, though I once again talked about how lonely I had been in my youth.  I need to stop doing this.  Stephen had great, specific questions about the stories and it was a lot of fun.
We then went to Davis-Kidd for my reading.  There was a small group that included SWC-alum and all-around great writer/nice person, Nat Akin.  I read, which went well aside from the tiny child who screamed so loudly, for such a long time, that my left eardrum ruptured.  Her father proceeded to put her in some kind of sleeper hold and she passed out, which made my second story more fun to read.  After the reading, the staff asked if I wanted them to ship the banner they had made for the reading, which seemed to be fifteen feet tall.  I said yes, please, yes.  Where will I store this?  No idea.  Thanks to all the staff at Davis-Kidd for having me and Peggy Burch, who came to the reading and wrote a nice article for the Commercial Appeal.
I also bought The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris.  I've been meaning to buy this since I heard him read from the novel at AWP, one of the most best readings I've ever heard.  Keith's book of stories, The Best Seats in the House, is also really fantastic.
Before all the book business, we went to the Rendezvous in Memphis.  It's probably the most well-known barbecue place in Memphis but I've never been a fan of their ribs.  Their lamb riblets, though, are incredible, one of the best things I've ever eaten.  So we showed up at 12:30 and realized, goddamn, they aren't officially open until 4:30pm.  They are serving ribs and ribs only, so we went ahead and ate.  It was underwhelming.  I felt like killing somebody.  We were going to try more barbecue after the reading, but we decided not to risk it.
Tomorrow I'm getting up at 5:00 am to drive back to Jackson for a television taping for the Mississippi Public Broadcasting show Writers.  I'll be taking part in a roundtable discussion with Richard Bausch and Elizabeth Spencer.  Then I drive down to Oxford for Thacker Mountain Radio.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Greenwood, MS

I'm in Greenwood, MS.  I had a reading at TurnRow Book Co.  It's a cool, two-level bookstore in a great space.  There was a nice little crowd and I read and talked and sold some books, which was a good feeling.  Thanks to Jamie, Ben, Becky, and Tad, who were gracious hosts.  Jamie and I talked about Charles Portis and why Masters of Atlantis might be the best of his books, which made me like Jamie a lot.  I also bought The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, which several people have told me to read.  I read a few pages in the store and, man, it looks good, a surreal, weird detective story.

I learned something about book tours, which is that there are times when you are not at the bookstore and you are not yet in your hotel room and you are not driving.  This is not time that I like.  We were out of our hotel in Jackson at 10 am and then realized that it was only an hour and a half to Greenwood and what the hell were we going to do until we could get into our hotel room?  We went to a TJ Maxx and we almost bought a 24 board game that came with a paper cutout of Jack Bauer.  We looked for movies but there was nothing playing at the times we had open.  My dad and I had run out of things to talk about fifteen minutes into the drive the day before.  We slept in the car for a little while and then drove to Greenwood.

I brought along a trade paperback of Jack Kirby's Mister Miracle.  If you want to see someone punching the shit out of a bunch of bad guys, Jack Kirby is the man to draw it.  Scott Free, who is the second Mister Miracle, was raised by Granny Goodness in one of her Terror Orphanages.  If someone wants to write a story about terror orphanages, they need to get cracking because I'm already on it.

We ate at Spooney's.  It is the size of a closet.  And I have eaten at hamburger and barbecue places that are the size of closets but usually they don't offer seating.  Spooney's has two tables and only three chairs.  When we walked inside, a man informed us that Spooney was at the store and would be back in a little while.  So we waited for ten minutes and Spooney showed up and seemed surprised as hell to see us.  We ordered rib tips and a rack of ribs and this is where things got a little weird.  We saw him remove some ribs from the fridge, then we heard him cutting the meat, and then we saw him put the ribs in the microwave.  This was weird.  He asked what we wanted to drink and then, immediately, opened the fridge to reveal that there were only two drinks available: a can of tea and a bottle of orange-flavored water.  We took them.  The ribs were pretty good but the sauce was incredible.  I wanted to eat a sandwich made of bread and this barbecue sauce.

I'm off to Memphis tomorrow.  I do a radio interview and then read at Davis-Kidd.  If you live in Memphis, please come.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jackson, MS

I'm in Jackson, MS.  I had a reading at Lemuria Books.  Earlier in the day, I did an interview for Don't Lecture Me, which is a "web series featuring fascinating interviews with persons of note."  I talked to Karen Hearn, who was very nice and had good questions, though I, for some reason, felt the need to spend way too much time talking about how desperately lonely I was for a good portion of my life.  Still, it was fun and I'm interested to see how they edit it to make it look like I wasn't, every fifteen seconds, shocked by the fact that the camera was focused on me and then very quickly staring at some distant point in space.

The reading was a little weird.  No one came.  Actually, my friend Mary Elizabeth, who is awesome, and her husband, Patrick, and their nine-month-old son, Jack, came.  And my dad was there.  No one else came.  One of the employees asked if I still wanted to read.  I said, "I guess not."  Mary Elizabeth said that I should read.  The other employees said that I should read.  Jack seemed like he wouldn't have minded if I had opted not to read so that he could go home.  So I sat about two feet away from everyone and read two very short pieces.  It wasn't too bad.  Thanks to Mary Elizabeth for coming and to the Lemuria booksellers, Emily and Kelly and Lisa and Joe, for being so nice to me.  

My dad and I had planned to stop in Tuscaloosa on the way to Jackson so we could eat at Archibald's Barbecue.  We had talked about it for almost two straight hours.  Then we got there and found out they were closed on Mondays.  My dad made me stand in front of Archibald's while he took a photo.  A group of construction workers across the street stopped working to watch this happen.

Tomorrow I'm off to Greenwood, MS, to read at TurnRow Book Company.  I'm hoping I can eat some rib tips at Spooney's Bar-Be-Que and pie at the Crystal Grill.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Some Catching Up to Do

I'm leaving tomorrow for the main section of the book tour.  Five cities, five bookstores, five days.  Jackson, Greenwood, Memphis, Oxford, Blytheville.  My dad is coming with me.  He is a super dad.  We have agreed that if no one comes to my reading, I will not give a reading to just him, sitting in the front row, resisting the urge to buy multiple copies of the book just to make me feel better.  

I got some nice reviews from some really good places.  You can read them here, here, herehere, here and here.  

Interviews were conducted here and here.

The book was selected as an Indie Next pick for the month of April.  Christopher Chadwick of ASUN Bookstore in Reno, Nevada, said some incredibly nice things about the book.  Christopher shot to the top of my "people to whom I will donate a kidney" list.

Andrew Scott selected it as one of three books, along with Paul Yoon's Once the Shore and Tracy Winn's Mrs. Somebody, for Andrew's Book Club.

I read on Thursday in Nashville.  My extended family made up a large percentage of the audience.  It was a lot of fun.  The staff seemed wired from the Miley Cyrus signing earlier in the day.  Behind me, while I read, were two copies of Miley's book.  My mom and dad stole every single poster in the store that mentioned my reading.

I read on April 1st in New York for the Happy Ending Reading and Music Series.  It was a ridiculously fun event.  Colson Whitehead was awesome.  Amy Cohen was very, very funny.  But it was Sam Amidon who really made me happy.  If there was a person who didn't want to sleep with Sam Amidon after that event, then that person was a robot.  He sang "Relief" by R. Kelly and did not snicker while he did this or try to be funny about the choice.  He sang it like it was the most beautiful song in the world, which it might be, and he got the entire audience to sing along.

The next day, we flew to Greensboro, but our flight was delayed four times and I just barely made it to the class I was supposed to sit in on.  I did not have time to change into a coat and tie.  I was wearing a flowery western shirt.  This made me very uncomfortable.  The undergraduates in the workshop did not seem to mind.  Or at least they said they did not mind when I mentioned that I felt uncomfortable three different times.  They were very nice.  Then I read a story that night and that went well.

In New York, I ate at Paul's.  It was really good.  I got a 1/2 lb. burger that was just a burger on a bun with a side of mayo.  It was amazing.  It was like the burger had been changed at the molecular level from a solid to a liquid.  And then the liquid was turned into a not-quite-solid burger.

In North Carolina, because we got in so late, we didn't get to go to Lexington Barbecue #1, which is the best barbecue I have ever eaten in the entire country.  I wanted, for a half hour after I realized we couldn't go, to kill myself.  

If you live in the cities for my reading tour, please come to the readings or tell your friends to come to the readings.  Here's the tour.  I'll write in when I can, I hope daily, to tell everyone what I ate and how I reacted to the fact that no one came to the readings.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hills Like White Elephants: Ravi Mangla

"The monkey with cymbals sends shivers down our television screen.  We wear pillows like earmuffs."
-from "Monkey" by Ravi Mangla