Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Tour (Birmingham)

The day after my reading in Atlanta, I headed out to Birmingham and got there very, very early. I had time to kill before heading over to Alabama Booksmith, so I went to Demetri's BBQ, which I had heard good things about. Demetri's was a pleasant kind of barbecue restaurant where the building looks old and lived-in but it's populated by mostly men wearing dress shirts and ties. I enjoyed the experience because the barbecue was unlike anything I've eaten before. The pork barbecue was served sliced, with a red, tomato-based sauce with Greek spices. It was more like eating a really good pork loin than barbecue (I got very little smoke taste from it). After that, I still had time left over so I drove thirty minutes to get some bubble tea at a shopping mall. I walked around the entire mall before I was informed that the bubble tea stand was gone now. I drove thirty minutes back to Alabama Booksmith.
The reading was a blast. Jake, the owner, was incredibly kind and really enthusiastic about the book. A good group of people came. I got to see my friend, the poet Adam Vines. We had just spent the last two weeks on staff at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, so I was touched that he came to the reading. Also, one of my favorite writer friends, Kerry Madden, who really encouraged me to keep writing when I was just out of college, came to the reading with her awesome and talented daughter Norah, who I last saw when she was a toddler. The reading was fun, I sold a lot of copies, and totally enjoyed meeting all the nice people in Birmingham.
After this, I start the portion of the book tour where my dad will join me. We start in Memphis, then go through Mississippi.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Tour (Chattanooga & Atlanta)

Now that The Family Fang has officially been released and getting generally nice reviews from places, I'm starting the book tour. Yesterday, the release date of the novel, I read at the Barnes & Noble in Chattanooga, TN. My mom and dad came with me because they love me a lot. They would come to a four hour ceremony to watch me receive a third place trophy for "Most Comic Book Figurines". We got there and we looked at the Nooks, which look very cool, and then it was time to read. Besides my parents, there were eight people there, which is so much better than the first reading for my last book, when two people showed up. A couple asked my mom and dad if they had read the book and if it was any good and my parents, who were pretending not to be my parents, said it was very good. Then I walked over to them and asked if they could hand me my galley copy of the novel because I was about to read. My mom just stood up and walked off. My dad admitted that he was my dad. It was awkward. I read the prologue from the novel and then answered questions and everyone was really nice and the Barnes & Noble people were incredibly nice and I sold some books and then my parents drove me home.
Today, I read in Atlanta, GA. I was ten minutes late to the reading at the Buckhead Barnes & Noble even though I had left my hotel (which was 2.5 miles from the bookstore) 45 minutes before the reading started. I got lost, I got stuck in traffic, I called my wife and cried. Then I got there and ran into the store and read for a nice group of people who had waited for me and answered lots of cool questions and then signed book. My cousin-in-law Chip and his mom, Peggy, came to see me read, which was very nice. And my cousin, Joe, who just moved to Atlanta, came to the reading. And a former student from Sewanee, Will, came to the reading. And Nicole, who is studying creative writing at Vanderbilt and worked with Tony Earley was there. And Vanessa Escobar, who I've talked to several times by email when she was writing an English paper on me, was also there. If every reading was like this, aside from the crying and being ten minutes late, I'd be very, very happy. I was excited to go to The Varsity Junior, an offshoot of The Varsity (one of my favorite food places in the world) and was then informed by a staff member at the bookstore that it had closed. I thought I was going to start crying again.
I'm reading tomorrow at 4:00 pm at the Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Buster and Annie Fang in Ink

This is slightly weird. I don't even let my closest friends see my bare feet or exposed knees. But I wanted to put up a picture of my latest tattoo, which is on my left arm, of Buster and Annie from the cover of The Family Fang. Emily Effler-Bond is the amazing tattoo artist who took Julie Morstad's beautiful illustration and dug it into my skin. I can't imagine getting another tattoo from someone other than Emily.

I am hoping the book does not fail spectacularly or else I'll always have a reminder of it on my arm.

I have two other tattoos and imagine I'll get quite a few more before I'm done. The other tattoo I have is of a Deth P. Sun image of a weird catlike creature playing a marching band bass drum. Underneath it says, "Please Be Brave". The other one is just some damn ominous blackbird. I very much like tattoos, not because I really want other people to see them (though that is nice), but because it gives me a point of distraction whenever I happen to look at myself in the mirror and see how much older/fatter/sadder I've gotten. It's a way for me, while I'm brushing my teeth before bed, to focus on a cat playing a bass drum or Annie and Buster with their bird masks and not, for example, why my skin always seems to have strange yellow bruises on it.

The book comes out on August 9th. I read tomorrow with my best friend Caki Wilkinson at the Sewanee Writers' Conference. I'll read something from the novel.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I was in New Orleans for less than 24 hours this past weekend for the American Library Association Conference. I was on a panel for Southern Literature. I'm going to write more about the panel, but the best part of the trip was the airplane ride back to Nashville, where I sat across the aisle from the country music singer Rodney Crowell. He was reading Richard Russo's Empire Falls. I did not bother him.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Last week, I went to New York and it was awesome. I was reading for a Yaddo benefit along with Aimee Mann and Jennifer Egan. You are reading that correctly. It was Oscar-nominated, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan, and me. I geeked out a lot.
Before the reading, right after I got into New York, I ran to Papabubble NYC, a homemade candy shop, and bought a bunch of soda-flavored gourmet candy. Then I went to Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli and bought a huge banh mi for almost no money. I ate that and drank a bubble tea in my closet-sized hotel room and then ate a fistful of hard candy and then realized I was going to be eating dinner at the Yaddo benefit in less than two hours.
The reading was at Tribeca Rooftop and I got there before my agent and her assistant, so I hid in the dining area while cocktails were being served. I was very nervous. I just walked around the tables and got in the waiters' way and looked at the name cards for the seating arrangements.
I was reading with Jennifer Egan and Aimee Mann because of Amanda Stern, a novelist who also runs the Happy Ending Reading Series. I got to read for that series in 2009 and I wrote about it here. Amanda is awesome and kind and very funny and she was nice enough to think of me for this reading, which was to announce that Yaddo and the Happy Ending Reading Series were entering into a partnership. I had been to Yaddo in 2008, where I wrote a good portion of a bizarre novel that fell apart, and it had been a really wonderful experience (Yaddo, not the novel falling apart), so it was fun to be a part of this benefit.
I ate sushi and cheeseburger sliders and talked to lots of neat people and then I got to listen to Aimee Mann play songs, even the really popular songs I thought she might not play, and then I read and then Jennifer Egan read from A Visit From the Goon Squad (the chapter about the PR woman and the dictator), which was amazing, and then Aimee Mann played some more songs, which made me want to cry it was so wonderful, and then my agent and I tried to meet my editor on the roof but we all got kicked out. I went back to my hotel and unwrapped what was left of the banh mi and ate that and then went to sleep. I also ate more of the hard candy. Oh, and Lou Reed was at the Yaddo party. I thought this might have been a dream but I saw a picture of him at the benefit on the internet, so he was definitely there.

Monday, May 16, 2011


At AWP, I talked to Richard Mocarski, who runs an excellent literary website called Zine-Scene. He told me that he wanted to do an issue focused on remixing existing works. He asked if I had any interest in doing something like that, and I immediately tried to think of stories that I would like to play with. I decided to pick a story that I thought was perfect and without any need for change, which was Adam Peterson's story "Hope's Dancing Fancy". I first read it in the Southeast Review, and I heard Adam read it at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and I thought it was incredible; I also think everything else Adam writes is incredible. I've searched out nearly every story he's written, and I'm always changed for the better when I finish them. "Hope's Dancing Fancy" was so precise and yet suggested an entire world of weirdness for the characters he introduced.
To remix it, I decided that I would completely change the intent of the piece. I would make it sappy, a kind of love story from a parent to a child. So I took the character in Adam's story, Hope, and focused on her parents, who are not in Adam's story. I don't know if it worked, but I liked brushing up against Adam's story for a few weeks. You can read both stories here. Thanks to Adam for letting me mess around with his work and thanks to Richard for pushing me in this direction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Just before AWP this year, VIDA, an organization that "seeks to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities," released "The Count 2010" which highlighted the male to female ratio of writers for various magazines and journals. It showed just how underrepresented women were in these magazines, and it was disheartening to see. And I aligned myself with those who wanted to see that ratio improve.
However, I started to think about the books I read in 2010 and when I went back over the list, I was shocked to see how much it skewed toward male writers. It was a nearly 4 to 1 ratio. Part of the problem was that I read a ton of Hard Case Crime novels, which has so far published only a single book by a woman. Still, that doesn't explain why I chose so many books by men in literary fiction over female writers.
It was strange to me that this was happening, since, if I made a list of my top five or top ten books of all time, there would be more books written by women than men. And if I went back and looked at 2010, the two best books I read would probably be Emma Donoghue's The Room and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad.
So, for 2011, I decided that I would try to focus my reading list to account for books written by women. It wasn't that I was going to read books by women exclusively, or that I would pick books I didn't want to read, just because they were by women. I just wanted to make sure that I actually read the books by women that perhaps before I would push to the back of my list in favor of male writers. So far this year, I've read 21 books and 13 of them have been written by women. I've even found a great place for pulp novels written by women, the Femme Fatales series by The Feminist Press, so I've been picking books from this series instead of the Hard Case series, which is on hiatus right now. I've read books as diverse as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the Edgar Award nominated novel Black Water Rising by Attica Locke, a pulp spy novel by Dorothy B. Hughes called The Blackbirder, novels by some of my favorite writers like Ann Patchett and Allegra Goodman, and literary novels by newer writers like Hannah Pittard and Tea Obreht and Karen Russell.
It's been a good exercise and one that I hope might lead me to eventually stop having to keep track of the ratio and simply benefit from reading works by both men and women.
Though the numbers were depressing, I am grateful to VIDA for their work in compiling The Count.